PETALING JAYA: Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is blaming the police for the action he took as prime minister against his then deputy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked and arrested for corrupt practices and sodomy in 1998.
In an exclusive interview with Chinese-language newspaper Sin Chew Daily published Monday (March 12), Dr Mahathir said that he “had no choice” but to take action against Anwar after the police had presented all the evidence to him.
“I was angry with the police. I asked them why they didn't give him a trial.
“They didn't tell me initially but later said they had given him a ‘black eye,’ but I insisted that he be given a trial,” he said, the referring to the assault Anwar suffered in police custody which led to a literal black eye, among other injuries.
The then Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor, was subsequently found guilty of assault and jailed for two months in 2000, and later made a public apology to Anwar and paid undisclosed damages.
Dr Mahathir added that if he were a dictator as his critics have described him, he could have put Anwar in jail directly instead of giving him a trial.
Last November, he also blamed the police for the Ops Lalang crackdown in 1987, which saw 106 people – civil society activists, religious leaders, lawyers and Opposition politicians among them –detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. He also shut down three newspapers, including The Star.
Writing on his chedet blog, he insisted that the decision to arrest the 106 people and shut down three newspapers was purely a police decision and that he had little choice but to go along.
He took responsibility for the arrests, but stopped short of apologising for the incident.
“I accept the blame even though the detention was not my decision,” he wrote.
In the interview with Sin Chew, he said that if he could turn back time and choose again, he would not have sacked Anwar.
“From the political point of view, I would not have done this. When I was the prime minister, I promised myself not to do anything that would make people hate me,” he said, but maintained he was left with no choice.
According to Dr Mahathir, he only had the power to sack Anwar as deputy prime minister and finance minister, and it was the Umno supreme council's collective decision to sack him as the party's deputy president.
“We had a supreme council meeting until 4am. Everyone had a chance to speak. They not only didn't want him to be deputy president, they also didn't want him in the party.
“It was not my decision!” he said.
In 1998, when Dr Mahathir was premier, he fired Anwar as his deputy and removed him from his Cabinet.
Anwar was then put on trial for corruption and sodomy and later convicted of both, before the sodomy verdict was overturned in 2004 when Dr Mahathir's successor, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was premier.
Anwar is now serving a five-year jail term for what has been labelled the “Sodomy 2” trial, where he was convicted sodomising Saiful Bukhari at a condominium in 2008.