CHAPTER FIFTEEN: REBIRTH, PLOTS, AND THE MANIPULATION OF HINDRAF

Many wondered why Anwar Ibrahim waited until late in 2006 to announce his intention to contest the Twelfth General Elections. There are prosaic explanations and convoluted ones, ranging from the simple fact that his failure to overturn his corruption conviction meant that he was uncertain of his legal ability to contest a seat, to terribly interesting and unlikely explanations about secret plans and gathering support amongst Umno backbenchers.

As a chum of mine from the American Midwest likes to say, Hogwash! The truth is that November 2006 was only important for Anwar’s true believers, who waited, certain that his announcement that he would contest would elicit a wave of revolution, rather than fall behind the news of the growing war of words between Abdullah Badawi and Mahathir Mohamad.

While there are important details that followed on Anwar’s release from prison – details that will become important later – the real story begins in 2007. It is there that Anwar showed the world that he had remembered his old ABIM tricks and the lessons of 1998 and 1999; and the world noticed.

Whatever else may be said of the world’s intelligence agencies in Malaysia, they became quite good at tracking the movement of Anwar’s resurgent financial empire, especially as funds began pouring back into Malaysia.

With some outside help, of course.

So in 2006 and 2007, analysts in Langley and Vauxhall Cross tried to puzzle out why millions of pounds were flooding out of the network and into the holding accounts of small, heretofore largely unknown civil society groups.

Secret services were already familiar with Anwar’s close association with George Soros and the manner in which they had funded ex nihilo a host of nominally independent groups who promptly sprang to life, decrying Malaysia’s Government and faithfully parroting the Opposition’s every utterance. Intelligence services tended to treat these as useless as sources of information, but a useful sign of a healthy civil society. After all, a society in which one may be a moron on behalf of idiotic minority politicians is a very free world indeed.

But what, they asked themselves and each other, is the purpose of funding this HINDRAF?

It is important to understand that massive rallies do not simply happen. One of the most pernicious ideas in all the world is that the mass of the repressed proletariat is ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice, forming a mob ready to topple the existing order and form a utopian society in its place. That has happened, in rare instances. But it didn’t happen in most places – and not back in 2007.

Anyone who has tried to bring a dozen friends to the cinema at the same time knows how foolhardy an idea this is. Even today, with SMS and Twitter and other such tools, bringing together enough people to perform a spontaneous dance routine in a shopping centre is no mean feat, something the Bersih people discovered in 2011 whilst trying to hold a protest at a shopping centre and instead got a dozen mostly befuddled people in yellow shirts together for a day of browsing.

What that rather pathetic but amusing stunt did not have, that the first Hindraf and Bersih rallies did, was co-ordination, funding, logistical support, and trained professionals prepared to stir up a mob.

What they had, in other words, was the backing of Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar brought not only his own street experience – somewhat dated since his glory days in the 1970s and even the late 1990s, but not wholly irrelevant by any means – but also organisers from labour and political movements in the West used to creating large rallies, communications channels and techniques; and perhaps most importantly, money.

The stories of both Bersih and Hindraf – the two rallies less than a month apart that shook Malaysia – begins as with so much else in this story with pre-existing structures corrupted by Anwar’s money machine. For Hindraf, the initial organisers were just a handful of men and women deeply exercised over the destruction of Hindu temples. With Bersih, a group of reformers and relatively unimportant Keadilan personages began discussing electoral reform by e-mail.

Anwar’s money changed all of that, beginning in late 2005.

Beginning in 2005, the Bersih group found itself awash in funds so that by 2006, despite protests of being non-partisan, it had become an open stalking horse for every Opposition party in existence, with sufficient funds to set in motion logistics of which most labour groups would be proud; HINDRAF went from being a group complaining by email in early 2006 about Hindu temple destruction to organising what they reasonably expected would be tens of thousands of outraged Tamils for a mass rally.

The stories of how both groups ended up being Anwar’s tools move in parallel.

There was, first, the money. The consultants came next, but the money was offered first, and so men and women with little experience with money, let alone thousands upon thousands of pounds’ worth of it, were naturally overwhelmed.

There would be no special conditions, no puppet-strings, no control. Just funds for the betterment of Malaysia. Are not clean elections in everyone’s interest? In a Malaysia where religious minorities always fear PAS is influencing Umno, are not preserved temples a positive good? It was all quite plausible.

But men and women with no experience with money simply do not know how to use it; and so – again, without any conditions – consultants with experience in public relations and organising and marching, vendors who could produce signs that would read clearly on the telly, a veritable army of men and women who could help the Bersih group and what would eventually become Hindraf navigate a harsh world in which very few public demonstrations were allowed, especially after Anwar’s stunts in the late 1990s.

But these men – and they were virtually all men – were loyal to Anwar, and so through them Anwar received essentially an open line of communication that poured the activists’ hopes and dreams and worries and fears to him; and that gave him the opening he wanted.

In short order, Bersih’s upper echelons were flooded with Opposition politicians and activists, who out of years of practise could sound the same themes of Bersih, though they cared not a jot about any of it.

But Hindraf was a different problem, and required Anwar’s special touch. So he travelled and met with their leaders, and spoke of his heartfelt desire that Malaysia should be a place where all faiths were accommodated, where all might freely choose their beliefs and practise them without fear.

That he had made a career out of rubbishing such talk was lost on them.

Would it not, it was put to them, be wise to make a single, eloquent gesture? Throw so much power and symbolism into a single event that even Umno must notice? Why not throw the entire matter at the feet of the British, who had abandoned the Indians and the Chinese to the Malays and Article 153? And would this not embarrass Abdullah Badawi and the Government before the British and the world?

This turned out to be a wildly popular idea.

It was here that the consultants entered on cue. Would it not be spectacular to have a rally before the British High Commission? Would it not be absolutely brilliant to have the rally at symbols with deep, national and spiritual meaning?

Two lawyers from a firm with offices on three continents spoke up. They had been at the meetings in Riyadh in early 2005 and had played no small part in every stage of events to date.

The American spoke first. “You should file a class-action lawsuit,” he said, happening as if by chance on an idea almost peculiarly American that also resonated with a people used to their Opposition leaders filing lawsuits for publicity purposes.

The Brit spoke next. “You should have Her Majesty the Queen pay for the suit, as you have been left too poor by her abandonment of you to afford such a thing.”

A general rule of street organising is that at best, for every 5-6 people contacted, one shows up. This is because outside of absolutely intolerable situations – where the ratio is more like 3:1 – the average person has better things to do than risk being crushed by a mob, sprayed by a water cannon, punched by a fellow protester, punched by a police officer, and put one’s beliefs and energy into standing in the sun for hours on end.

But with enough money, expertise, and manpower, a good riot can be had whenever one wishes.

The point of a rally, or a riot, or a mob, is not to cause directly a government’s overthrow. It is to generate sympathy in the greater population for one’s cause. It is to generate that CNN moment, preferably with tear gas on camera. The marchers must be the demonstrative sacrifices to a brutal state, or the men and women who stayed at home will continue to stay at home. They must see their neighbours, their friends, their family bludgeoned and gassed, even though they may have attacked the police in the first place.

This was the motivation behind the Bersih rallies and the 2007 Hindraf rally. It is why Bersih 2.0 was turned into a provocation against the police, and why Anwar made his widely-viewed gesture to storm the barricades at Bersih 3.0. With the tools of power denied him, Anwar fell back on his old days of street rallies, just as he had when his coup attempt failed.

Images of red-shirted PAS thugs attacking the police destroy the narrative.

So the plan, as it existed on paper, was brilliant, and in many ways worked as desired. The poor chaps who marched at the Hindraf rally never made it to their intended destination; but of course, Anwar had never intended that they would. Bersih and Hindraf degenerated into batons and tear gas and public chaos and disorder.

Just as Anwar had wanted.

But even brutalised marchers are not enough. One must have a great national or religious symbol as a backdrop, a tie that brings together shared feelings with the sympathy of sacrifice. Anwar’s men decided that Bersih should be aimed at the King (with Anwar of course leading the procession), and Hindraf should be held under the shadow of the Petronas Towers (with another at the Batu Caves temple), with a march to the British High Commission, a move deeply symbolic of Britain’s role in Malaysia’s history and of its close relationship with Putrajaya.

And there must be adequate satellite coverage.

And so when Bersih’s simple march turned into a reminder of Indonesia’s riots, CNN was there. When the tear gas flowed at the Batu Caves, photographers were available and already prepositioned. When the rioters at the Petronas Towers were gassed, Al-Jazeera already had camera crews on standby.

The Opposition feasted on the images. For the first time in a decade, it seemed as if Malaysia might be again coming apart.

One rally followed the other, and deeply moving photos and stories were disseminated by email, mildly dim foreign media, and by a Wikipedia campaign well in advance of the proprietors’ understanding of how their site was being used for propaganda.

Though the rallies were marked by water cannon and tear gas and moving pictures sent by internet and satellite dish; though they took place before symbols of Malaysian nationalism and unity and before profoundly meaningful religious symbols; though they were everything Anwar and his merry band imagined, they were yet another overreach by Anwar, though he had not yet realised it.

The same cycle would repeat itself in 2012, when Anwar’s hijacking of Bersih became complete, and when a rally under a more tolerant regime was once again turned into a series of CNN moments. There again, the consequences for Anwar would be in the longer-term, but would be no less significant.

The chameleon never learns.

Malaysia is not in fact a third-world Hell-hole. Whilst Anwar wanted to portray the country as coming apart at the seams in its fervour to cast aside Barisan Nasional, the real effect was to waken every major intelligence service in the area from the stupor into which they had fallen.

Whilst Foreign Ministries and State Departments issued sternly-worded denunciations of police action, spooks from the United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, and the United States once again came to understand exactly how dangerous Anwar was.

Malaysia is not merely not a third-world Hell-hole, it is also one of the rare bulwarks of stability and democracy in the Muslim world, a fact rarely appreciated in-country but a cornerstone of Western planning. Anwar was placing this in jeopardy, and by all accounts did not particularly care if he brought the whole thing down if it gave him his one chance at power.

It was the job of those men in the shadows to care. With the help of a few ex-spooks and their friends – who by then had already compiled quite the set of data on the former Deputy Prime Minister – the intelligence services increased their monitoring and worked to penetrate his organisations at all costs.

Their greater understanding of the man would be a part of his undoing over time.

Anwar was oblivious to this, and so, as his exile from electoral politics came to a close, he prepared to stand for election, certain that once and for all, everything would change.

And so it would in 2008 – though not as he apparently expected.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: ANWAR, WOLFOWITZ AND THOSE NIGHT FLIGHTS

I should not want you to believe that I spent time that could be spent with my young family and my business affairs relentlessly tracking Anwar Ibrahim’s machinery across the Earth. To the contrary; while Malaysia’s economic importance was growing during the last decade – and my experience in Malaysia and Singapore helped grow my business significantly – I, like the rest of the world, had other matters in mind daily.

The I-Files, as I have mentioned before, are a collaborative effort. Though I have offered my own gloss on the events that transpired and my particular efforts in developing Anwar’s story, they are hardly the entirety of the matter. Colleagues, associates, juniors – as I mentioned at the start of this tale, many hands made the I-Files, even if I am the one to relate them, to collate the fragments, the documents, the cables. A couple of men have gone missing and others have mysteriously retired to make this collection of tales from the life of Anwar Ibrahim.

I, by contrast, have lived a safer life, but volunteered to bring these stories to you.

So it was that in August 2004, I was in London, my family in New York, and the latest intrigue in the drama of Anwar’s life unfolded without my awareness until a year after it was done. Other eyes, however, were watching.

The sun had just gone down, and clouds blocked the moonlight of a darkening sky as two planes approached the general vicinity of Malaysia that evening in August, 2004. They came within a relatively short distance of one another (fortunately at different altitudes), and seemed to crisscross as they flew in from the sea. One headed for Singapore, one for Kuala Lumpur. For a brief moment, each could see the other gliding above the clouds, reflecting the moon’s pale light, just before they began their separate descents.

In Singapore, US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz stepped out of the private jet that had diverted course from a meeting not very far away on his say-so. Though the humidity was high that night, he did not sweat, instead firmly shaking the hand of the young Malay who came to fetch his bags and escort him to a waiting Mercedes. They drove off into the night for a meeting a few kilometres away.

In Kuala Lumpur, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, Abdelouahed Belkeziz, and the eternal Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud bin Faisal were escorted directly from their plane to another waiting Mercedes. They did not speak during the entire drive to Seri Perdana.

Wolfowitz walked directly into a small conference room, with coffee and carbonated beverages ready. He ignored them as he strode forward to shake hands the men waiting for him, the socalled “Fourth Floor Boys” – three men, two sons of former diplomats (and therefore familiar if not directly skilled in the business of international diplomatic exchange) and another, older gentleman, a protégé of the late Noordin Sopiee of ISIS Malaysia (conveyor of the Pacific Dialogues) with a doctorate in International Relations from one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world.

Wolfowitz explained as patiently as possible – suggesting but never saying that his was the Official Position of the United States – that Anwar Ibrahim’s appeal of his sodomy charges should succeed, by whatever means necessary.

Saud bin Faisal was hale and hearty well beyond his years (not yet showing the illnesses that would begin to bring him low not long after) as he formally and warmly greeted Abdullah Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia, and most importantly not Mahathir Mohamad. He had brought along Belkeziz to add weight to his argument – which was, essentially, that Anwar Ibrahim’s appeal of his sodomy charges should succeed, by whatever means necessary. By contrast, Anwar’s release was the official – if unstated – position of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Roughly an hour apart, both men made the same pitch: Releasing Anwar would provide a boon to Malaysia’s international standing. Both men could guarantee increased foreign direct investment in the country. After Anwar’s trials, no one believes the judiciary is independent anyway. It would be better to remain in others’ good graces than to stray so far as to allow Anwar to rot in prison.

Neither man had conferred with each other. Wolfowitz was a leading voice in his government for an adversarial policy toward the Saudis, and Prince Saud had been a vocal opponent of the Iraq War Wolfowitz had helped design. Why they both happened to make the same pitch on the same night … well, that perhaps had a common, unseen hand behind it, one unknown to both men.

Wolfowitz played a terribly careful game, knowing that he was not speaking for the United States Government, but instead for his own considerable – but limited – influence in it. George W Bush had little interest in Anwar Ibrahim, counted Malaysia a good trading partner and a country largely marked by the moderate Islam he promoted to his citizens, and with Mahathir’s departure and his own re-election effort grinding away, frankly could not have cared less. Wolfowitz instead came bargaining on behalf of his influence in business, the unelected bureaucracy, and among his fellow sub-Cabinet appointees.

That it was the Fourth Floor Boys – and not a Deputy Minister – who met with him showed clearly that everyone involved understood the stakes quite well. When his requests were politely deflected, he circled back again and again, speaking of contacts in industry and government who would naturally fall into line at his request.

The men with whom he met had little personal contact with Anwar, but knew enough of him to be wary of Wolfowitz. They looked askance at the unsubtle bribes Wolfowitz was offering (the subtle threats they ignored as mere seasoning), unsure why Malaysia needed his help to gain the investments and prestige he offered, especially with the Iraq War headed downhill at a gallop.

They spoke of the US election, dealing in trivialities but suggesting that perhaps Wolfowitz would not be in any position to make good his promises after January 2005. Wolfowitz, who was privy to the Bush campaign’s polling data, waved that concern away.

The final question from the young men gathered before the former academic and influential man in the most powerful nation in the world was this: Do you not realise that this is a highly inappropriate set of requests and enticements, and that we cannot interfere with the judiciary in our country any more than you can in Washington?

Saud bin Faisal is the longest-serving Foreign Minister in the world, an accomplishment owing to his birth, his singular skill in navigating Kingdom politics, and his ability to be smooth in public and a hammer in private. Abdelouahed Belkeziz was not the canniest man to hold the position of Secretary General of the OIC, but he was hardly the dullest either. He knew who held the whip-hand in the organisation, and he understood Anwar’s importance to the Wahhabi project well.

In Abdullah Badawi, they sensed – correctly – a man with less steel in his spine than Mahathir on his worst day. They therefore assumed that they could dramatically and somewhat theatrically explain the stakes to him, outline some unfortunate consequences of refusal, and expect a rapid capitulation.

In this, they were mistaken.

Pak Lah did not so much reject them as deflect them. While he could and would never be the reformer he suggested to the world at large, and while he would always stand in Mahathir’s shadow, he was a calm, deliberative chap, prone to more careful decision making and long deliberation than Dr M had ever been. Fresh off of a crushing victory in the elections in March, he was not overly concerned about his position.

One informant with personal knowledge of these meetings likened it to bargaining with wet clay.

The question Abdullah put to his interlocutors repeatedly was this: mightn’t it be better to allow the judiciary to come to its own conclusions? Anwar’s sodomy was not really doubted by most Malaysians, so the real question was how the final court of appeal might consider the numerous errors by the prosecution. If Anwar was acquitted, he would be able to claim the moral high ground of acquittal, while still satisfying those who wanted him punished by allowing Malaysians to think him a homosexual.

Obviously, it little served the Wahhabis to have an asset tainted by credible sodomy allegations. Everyone in the room knew this well. So Belkeziz countered with a simple question: “If you allow this to stand, what will your fellow Muslims say of Malaysian justice?”

Abdullah responded with a smile, “Is it not the nature of justice that she is blind?”

Wolfowitz continued on his way a few hours later, stymied. His other meetings were uneventful, and he watched with some satisfaction as his boss ground out his electoral opponent in a surprisingly successful re-election campaign.

Belkeziz and Prince Saud retired, enjoyed a quiet and delicious nasi lemak breakfast with Malaysia’s Prime Minister at which not a word of Anwar was spoken, and departed around noon.

Both had other matters to which to attend, other concerns beyond a single, well-financed asset. Both groups of men believed that were the judiciary to decide on its own, Anwar would lose. Both groups secretly hoped that Abdullah would reconsider his prior intransigence.

Some months before, Anwar’s defence team had moved to disqualify Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad and Justice Tengku Baharuddin Shah Tengku Mahmud, two of the judges hearing his appeal, on the grounds of bias and lack of experience, respectively. Although this was an incendiary manoeuvre – telling a judge he is unqualified to hear a case might be likened to legal suicide bombing – by this time, the Malaysian public, outside of those web portals Anwar or his foreign friends sponsored, little noticed or cared.

In May, the Federal Court denied Anwar’s motion, as had been expected, and reserved judgment. Again, few noted or cared.

As August turned to September, tension built around the looming decision. Three reports of imminent judgments stirred up crowds and miniature protests, but nothing came.

On 2 September 2004, the Federal Court allowed Anwar’s appeal. Justices Abdul Hamid Mohamad and Tengku Baharuddin Shah Tengku Mahmud, despite what Anwar had called their bias and inexperience, constituted the majority. Noting that Anwar had almost certainly committed sodomy, they nevertheless found the prosecution of the case so riddled with error that it could not stand.

A thousand rumours were birthed that day. Pak Lah had ordered Anwar released. The Americans had ordered Anwar released. The Israelis, the Chinese, the British, the Fourth Floor Boys, a thousand actors and more were secretly manipulating the entire process to free Anwar at a decent time after the general elections were completed.

Intrigue is a deliciously addictive lure when one does not live it regularly. To those who dwell in the shadows and the light, it is commonplace, uninteresting, and usually easily unwound.

“None at all,” the young Chinese woman said.

She had no personal knowledge of the events at issue, but was instead the hub for the information, intercepts and other intel that the American had purchased. When she spoke, she spoke of a consensus of a dozen sources and more, men and women placed among the powerful and in their proximity.

When she said that Abdullah Badawi had had no influence on the Federal Court’s decision, she spoke for a united voice of those men and women, surprised, adamant, and resigned.

The American had been Roger’s protégé and now headed his own concerns out of Singapore. As a favour to an old friend, he had run the operation to uncover whether the Malaysian government had decided to release Anwar, or if this had been left to the court itself.

“You’re certain?” he asked. Thirty, a non-smoker and teetotaler, his look and his voice were perfectly level.

“They are,” she replied precisely. “He believed Anwar deserved justice, and he believed justice mandated that he have no part.” He noted how lovely her eyes were. Never mix business and pleasure, so he ended the business with a nod.

“Are you doing anything for dinner tonight?”

Pak Lah’s decision would of course come back to haunt him, but that tale is for later. On his release from prison, Anwar made arrangements for medical treatment in Germany – his back injury, though often exaggerated, required real medical attention – and reached out to his closest allies.

He called Paul Wolfowitz, and the men relived old times and began planning their in-person reunion. He called Riyadh.

He reactivated his network contacts, and received warm congratulations from numerous men in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Istanbul.

The IIIT activated its subsidiaries in Turkey and Anwar reached out to his old comrade Erdoğan. This relationship would once again bear fruit again and again.

Messages were passed to Abdullah Badawi and other old Barisan Nasional allies. Anwar once again wanted back in from the cold. Meetings were arranged between surrogates with an eye toward the principals once again dining together.

Another appeal of his corruption conviction began just a few days later, with the intent to make the next general elections open to him.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was back. He was determined to finally grasp the prize so long denied him.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: SHAKESPEARE, PRISON, AND A NEW DAWN

I have mentioned before that by the time of Anwar’s bizarre escapade in “escaping” to the Turkish Embassy in 2008, my family and I had become significantly more mobile. My business concerns had replaced my government service, and I had expanded into four continents, and my wife, though always in love with her home, wanted to bring the children on travel as they grew.

So it was that by the time the investigation into Anwar’s financial dealings as Deputy Prime Minister were complete, and the teams had turned to the rearrangement of those finances in the wake of his downfall, we had already secured a flat in Chelsea and a nice little house in Poughkeepsie for the transactions and travel that would occupy much of the next many years. The rise of mobiles, the internet, and most especially poor Research In Motion, meant that I could, and did, run my Asia portfolio from anywhere.

I mention this to provide context for what will be a more piecemeal narrative in this chapter than is my usual custom. Whilst I was quite busy with family and business, I found myself providentially close to a number of events on the periphery, even as my colleagues and subordinates back in Malaysia slowly added to our treasure-trove of information.

Thus it was that 2000 through 2004 were much quieter times than they had been – unless one knew where to look.

American law on its NGOs requires that they not be mere stalking-horses for their owners and principals. One cannot set up, for example, ‘The Institute for Funding Anwar Ibrahim’s Children’s Educations and His Own Political Ambitions’. Except that this is precisely what happened with the International Institute of Islamic Thought.

Oh, IIIT indisputably maintained its solemn mission of attempting to poison Muslims and non- Muslims with Wahhabi doctrine under the guise of interfaith harmony. Yet when the board unceremoniously elected to fund Nurul Izzah Anwar’s education – an act that should have immediately brought down the wrath of the Internal Revenue Service and federal and state authorities – nothing happened other than a polite letter-exchange between the IRS and the IIIT.

And when IIIT funded public relations firms – Janus Merritt Strategies, Edelman, a host of others – to advance the Free Anwar campaign in the States, even less was said, despite the firms’ duly identifying the IIIT and its principals as their funders.

This was not due to the insidious cabal of neo-conservatives who would later come to dominate Washington’s foreign policy – they will be important in the next chapter – but rather to the bureaucrats who had come to dominate their respective agencies, who had been wined, dined, traveled, and feted by Anwar’s network of organisations and allies through the years. Without action by the everyday civil servants, the most impassioned desires of the elected leadership were nothing.

One place Anwar had been singularly ineffective in mobilising support was the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is rather like America’s national police force. So it was that in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the FBI intensified its prolonged investigation into the IIIT, ultimately culminating in a 2003 raid and the seizure of papers demonstrating links to global terrorist organisations.

This amusing episode came as I endured a week of unpleasant meetings with some fellows who had flown out from Los Angeles to discuss business and who, having been born too late and too American, did not understand the value of a good drink whilst discussing business. I was therefore amused to watch Anwar’s entire American operation, formal and informal, swing into operation to cover this unexpected calamity.

Although the IIIT raid had at its centre the story of several figures closely allied with international terror networks, and though it was happening in the Washington Post’s neighbourhood, there was nothing requiring the Post – long one of Anwar’s greatest American institutional admirers – to discuss Anwar; and so it did not. The other major dailies followed suit, and the matter never made the television news. The United States Attorney – essentially a sub- Attorney General – charged with prosecuting the case suddenly found that resources and support for the case had disappeared.

Simultaneously, the lobbying effort for which IIIT had paid renewed its intensity as the Administration and Congress were treated to the somewhat bizarre assertion that Malaysia’s government had tricked them into investigating Anwar Ibrahim. Years of muddying Mahathir’s already-tarnished name paid off, and the investigation came under intense fire internally.

Naturally, the entire affair died a quiet death. Charges were dropped and resources directed elsewhere. I of course acquired copies of the relevant search warrant and other documents – I rather suspect the relevant agents are still fuming over being so completely blocked.

The event is not only remarkable for what it said about Anwar’s influence in the American media and sub-Cabinet levels of American government, but also for the chain of events it inaugurated – but that is getting ahead of myself.

Intelligence services have, as a rule, been singularly unimpressed with Anwar’s charades over time. In this, they differed from the diplomatic corps of their respective countries, who are generally composed of easily-impressed, but influential or wealthy morons; and career civil servants whose dislike of their own nations is only exceeded by their dislike of the influential or wealthy morons.

So it was that as Anwar’s imprisonment continued and his cronies and networks separately activated their contacts in embassies and foreign services across the world, one could see a near-constant barrage of aggrieved statements about Anwar’s status, his perceived slights, his party’s fortunes, and so on, from appointed ministers through world leaders.

If one knew with whom to speak, one could also listen to intelligence services mocking them.

The CIA and MI-6 have outsized reputations, drawn from by-gone days of stealth in the honing atmosphere of the Cold War; but sadly, few modern intelligence services are quite so good as they, especially in dealing with human assets rather than electronic data. When asked their thoughts on Anwar’s imprisonment, they responded with the data: he was largely healthy, accorded adequate rest, nutrition, and exercise; and functionally running his political factions in-country and economic empire outside of it despite his confinement.

Australian intelligence, an under-appreciated service, found signal and human traffic showing increased Saudi pressure on Malaysian leaders as the momentum the Opposition had gained from Anwar’s imprisonment stalled in the usual round of bumbling by their leaders. Some data even suggested that the Saudis were organising large protests, under cover of which Anwar would be freed; this plan was only allegedly abandoned when Malaysian police accidentally uncovered it.

All of this data was duly sent up the chain, including the information that PAS had called for volunteers to fight with the Taliban against NATO – and that Anwar had backed their call – to no effect. Tony Blair and John Howard were preoccupied with other matters, and Paul Wolfowitz personally intercepted the salient communiques before they reached George Bush’s desk.

We shall return to Wolfowitz presently, but I include him to make a larger point: Anwar’s network transcended ideology. Whatever else may be said of Paul Wolfowitz, he is a man who takes the well-being of his country quite seriously. That he was willing to put this aside for a man convicted of public corruption, which conviction was upheld on appeal – I do not believe he cared about the sodomy – is a telling statement indeed.

The several intelligence agencies, thwarted, returned to data gathering … and making that data available to any who would listen. One of their principal targets was Petronas.

Petronas was a lifeline for Anwar during those days, not merely financially – though of course Anwar had the better part of a billion dollars to recover – but also through the network of connections to which Anwar’s aides and cronies had access that Petronas provided. It was through that network that IIIT’s resources were rapidly moved out of the United States, to Riyadh, Jeddah, and Istanbul as the FBI closed in. It was through that network that publications and seminars on Anwar’s imprisonment were held.

Without Petronas and its connections, the Myth of Anwar in the West would have slowly faded to a memory.

Those of us who realised how Petronas was leveraging its spot crude prices were able to make a tidy sum on secondary derivatives of its pricing, but we always wondered when Mahathir would put an end to it.

The answer was ‘never’. Mahathir was apparently oblivious to the spot-price disparity Petronas was running as well as the informal assistance Hassan Merican provided Anwar. From what we could gather, Abdullah Badawi was similarly unaware of the entire operation until some time not long before the twelfth general elections – and by then, the damage was done, and Badawi’s time remaining was measurable.

It thus fell on Najib Razak, after he had ascended to Prime Minister, to excise the tumour from Petronas – a move that was decried by the Opposition, who knew full well why it had been done, and led to serious consternation in those sectors of the business community who had no inside information into Petronas and its relationship with Anwar. Najib, ever scrupulous, said nothing.

However, in the long period between Anwar’s imprisonment and Najib’s ascension, Petronas and its network were a vital link in the chain of Anwar’s triumphant return – a chain that ran all the way to Putrajaya.

Anwar had not been quiet whilst in prison; far from it. Aside from his regular messages to his political faithful – abroad and at home – he spent a great deal of time not only working with Malaysia’s Opposition, but its Government as well.

So it was that by the time his appeal of his sodomy conviction was ripe, Mahathir had stepped down and allowed Badawi to take his place, seeing in Badawi a caretaker who would serve for an election or two and then gracefully make way for Najib and the other, younger men Mahathir had slated for leadership.

The battle that began almost immediately between Mahathir and Badawi is best left for another time, but it is with this backdrop that one must understand how Anwar almost managed an early release, and yet bungled the whole thing.

Through surrogates inside the Badawi Government, Anwar reached out to Badawi, with whom he had maintained a fairly close relationship while both were in Mahathir’s orbit, about a return to Umno. Eager to show his distance from Mahathir at home and abroad, Badawi was initially receptive to the possibility.

Talks continued for some time … until they reached the stage at which Anwar demanded a return to his position as Deputy Prime Minister. Badawi was still in Mahathir’s shadow, and he could not contemplate such a move. The so-called Fourth-Floor Boys, among Badawi’s closest advisors, also made sure Badawi did not continue talks with Anwar.

The talks died down … but the channel remained open.

It is against the backdrop of these events that the year 2004 plays out, and the dramatic events – in the public eye and outside of it – that year experienced are the subject of the next chapter.

CHAPTER TWELVE: SODOMY, MONEY, AND SPIN

I do not mean to digress overmuch – a sin of which I am already guilty – and I appreciate your patience as I indulge my proclivity for drama and for narrative. But I assure you that all of my writings concern real events, and I ask that you bear with me again as we step out of the chronology into which we have settled as we turn to our subject’s trial for sodomy – and more importantly, what we learned during those tumultuous days.

I would like to return to two topics that saw perhaps their greatest change at the time: Anwar’s public relations machine, and Anwar’s money machine.

Let us begin with the public relations.

Few Malaysians are aware that most Westerners are unaware that Anwar Ibrahim was tried twice after his fall from grace, once for corruption, once for sodomy. Indeed, most Westerners who know of Anwar are convinced that he was tried for sodomy only, and that his trial was part of a political manoeuvre by Mahathir Mohamad to dispose of his reforming deputy prime minister once and for all.

One might credit this to a number of things, not least being that Western society is vaguely obsessed with sexual intercourse of every kind; that then-American President Clinton was being tried in Congress for lies about sex under oath, and so sex, so to speak, was in the air; or that the majority of Western reporters are liberals on sexual matters, and so were horrified that anyone could be tried for sodomy anywhere and quite lost the thread over the whole thing.

All of these things are true. But they are not the truth. The truth is that Anwar, whatever his failings, is a devilishly clever practitioner of public image control, and he mobilised his considerable resources toward the goals of enhancing his image abroad, and in turn using that to create a perception of inevitability at home.

I have remarked before that the ruthlessly competent Anwar who had worked his way from Youth and Sports to Education to Finance to Deputy Prime Minister had disappeared on being cashiered. In his place was a man one might reasonably mistake for an uninhibited Ego, who so believed in the power of his foreign backers and his carefully-crafted image that he believed street protests would bring down Mahathir Mohamad as they had the Indonesian dictator Suharto, a miscalculation of both Indonesia’s political culture and Malaysia’s.

But for all of the loss of his talent in politics, his gift for presenting the best face possible to the world never waned. Indeed, it seemed to blossom in a way it never had before. And so Anwar found the right notes to sing, and the right speed at which to play them, for his most fervent and gullible audience: foreign reporters.

It was with wry amusement that I read in the Wall Street Journal in late 1998 and early 1999 that Anwar Ibrahim, the reforming Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, had been tortured, thrown into prison, and charged with sodomy as part of the autocratic Mahathir Mohamad’s attempt to stop Anwar’s reforms once and for all, with the whole sodomy bit being a mere façade.

Oh, Mahathir was certainly an autocrat, and if the Royal Commission was to be believed, Anwar was certainly beaten, and he had certainly been charged with sodomy. Indeed, the truth or lack thereof of those assertions, made over the course of weeks, was not where the humour lay.

It was instead in the way the story built over the course of days and weeks in the Journal, the Economist, and other publications – those with whom Anwar had once been intimately familiar as Finance Minister, and with whom certain boutique consultancies in New York and London had close ties and easy access.

Having used and counseled some of those same consultancies, I recognised their fingerprints. The first, breathless revelations; the sudden twists and turns that have been known in-country for weeks; and the relentless messaging in friendly outlets. Whatever else may be said of Anwar Ibrahim, he pays for the best public relations experts, and he gets them.

Anwar’s opponents were not so well-prepared. Mahathir did himself no favours with his management of the situation. Years of unchallenged power, the Team A/Team B fiasco long behind him and even the King essentially reduced to a raw figurehead, the ease with which he had vanquished Anwar’s uprising – all of these things left the Prime Minister, who was generally disinclined to explain himself overmuch anyway, absolutely unprepared for what was coming.

Complicating the matter was the Government’s prosecution of Anwar’s sodomy charge, which might charitably be called incompetent. I refer not merely to the horrific state of the alleged physical evidence, but to the preparation of the witnesses. I distinctly recall shaking my head when reading that Azizan Abu Bakar had testified that he had been repeatedly sodomised, roughly a dozen times, between 1992 and 1993. The attempts to explain away poor evidence handling and contradictory testimony obscured what many with any real knowledge of Anwar believed to be an entirely accurate charge.

Anwar’s public relations teams feasted on the chaos. Foreign reporters no longer needed to come to Kuala Lumpur for live updates on the case and every Government misstep. Mahathir of course made it worse.

At some point, he took it on himself to assert the judiciary’s independence to any foreign questioner. One would expect no less, but he chose as his crucial proof the Team A/Team B matter. This became his stock response to queries from journalists, writers, and foreign leaders.

It did not take them long to uncover Mahathir’s reaction to the courts’ decisions in the Umno schism, or the subsequent moves in Parliament to permanently cow the judiciary. They found it particularly easy to discover this when Anwar’s public relations teams practically deluged them with the relevant clippings, constitutional changes, and photographs.

I know this, because many of the largest public relations firms are desperate to place copy far and wide, and even a poor facsimile of a real publication can receive their material on a simple request. I therefore received the same media packages in my capacity as principal of The New Bahasa Times, a publication with a mailing address at my father-in-law’s home and a total circulation of my group of ex-pat chums.

We duly sent thank-you notes.

These same consultants would form the nucleus of his public relations team through his time in prison (paid for out of Anwar’s and his Saudi masters’ funds) – but we shall return to their work in a later chapter. What was particularly impressive was the level of co-ordination Anwar managed with his financial and public relations teams whilst in prison, a particularly spectacular feat given the government’s surveillance of his correspondence.

Would that he had put half this much élan and daring into his coup attempt.

At home, with the domestic press largely foreclosed to him, Anwar needed alternative channels for his messages. Funds funneled through George Soros’s Open Society organisation allowed the creation of several online ventures, some of which remain today, whose slavish devotion to Anwar’s gospel made at least one of those public relations experts, whom I later hired, blanche. Soros, of course, needed no encouragement to accuse Mahathir of every crime imaginable, and so made it a point to maintain a steady flow of his own and Anwar’s (well-disguised) funds into Opposition media for over a decade.

But Anwar’s greatest work was in the Western press as a lever for domestic consumption.

The core message pushed out to Western reporters was, I thought, brilliant: Appeal to their sexual liberalism, their desire to champion the weak against the strong (even when the weak are wrong and the strong correct), and their belief in their own indispensability. Continue the Shakespeare allusions and bring them back to their days at university where they imagined themselves as literate in every field as the specialists. Provide them “exclusive” copy so that they felt wanted and appreciated. Wine, dine, and in an industry already frightened of what the internet would do to their livelihoods, help them live well.

I chuckled to myself as I looked through some notes on Anwar’s press contacts at Time, Newsweek, The Financial Times, The Economist, and the Wall Street Journal. I decided to set up a bit of an office game to see how each publication would work to convince its readers that Keadilan’s latest manouevre or Anwar’s latest tribulation was somehow important to their lives.

Amongst ourselves, we were only curious as to where what we were beginning to realise was his astronomical financial empire had gone. It was August 1999, and we largely believed Anwar a spent force.

We were, broadly, mistaken.

As Anwar’s sodomy trial ground on, and our investigations into his financial resources continued – as I discussed before – one of our overarching questions was not merely, How much does he have? but also Where did it go?

Mahathir had discerned quickly – through the use of open and covert pressure – part of Bank Negara’s role in Anwar’s money machine, and as a spigot for the funds to enter Malaysia, the institution’s days were over. Hong Leong was similarly largely separated from Anwar’s financial dealings as a security risk, though over time they would be welcomed back into the fold. The entirety of Anwar’s carefully-controlled crony network was unceremoniously seized, bullied, or dissolved.

Al Baraka Bank would remain a centre for Anwar’s dealings, because with the importance of the House of Saud to the Hajj, Mahathir was unwilling to completely dismiss Riyadh from Malaysia, an entirely rational move that would nevertheless allow Anwar to pour funds into Keadilan and his other in-country ventures as needed.

One of the details Mahathir’s investigators came across were the International Institute of Islamic Thought transfers amongst the Bank Negara records – hence the notations in Murad Khalid’s statutory declaration – and so Mahathir demanded that the United States close the institute or at least freeze its funds until the investigation was complete.

The Clinton Administration was long since irrevocably opposed to Mahathir and more than slightly in favour of Anwar, and so categorically refused. When Mahathir personally rang President Clinton to note that the IIIT was apparently channeling funds to known terrorist organisations, the line of communication was simply cut altogether. The IIIT would serve as a vital conduit and safe house for Anwar’s finances until a new President took office – and ironically swept in the neoconservatives, who were Anwar’s implacable allies but never placed in domestic policy.

With Hong Leong and Bank Negara essentially closed to Anwar’s funds, Al Baraka’s importance grew. Contacts in Riyadh passed along data to those of us growing the I-Files that the House of Saud was so invested in Anwar that they gladly recouped Al Baraka’s losses from Anwar’s inactivity, and helped re-create the financial empire with their man out of commission and his crony network broken.

Gone, obviously, were the front companies with names of variations of ‘black rock.’ Instead, new funds came into existence with names like ‘Independence’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Freedom,’ ‘Reformed’, and others in a similar vein, with offerings made to Anwar’s foreign backers (who generally could not otherwise afford the subscription fee) and invested in growth areas such as China, Turkey, the United States, and Brazil. It took the better part of a year for the entire operation to come fully into effect, but by the time the chaps in Riyadh and the fellows from the ruins of BCCI in Lahore completed their handiwork, the entire operation was fully functional again, albeit along different channels than before.

All told, Anwar had lost something on the order of over 1 billion US Dollars – a not trivial portion of his wealth – but the Saudis had plugged the leak and repaired much of the damage.

As I’ve said, the Saudis play the long game. Anwar never faced death for his crimes, and using his funds and theirs had quickly placed himself back in the political game, this time as the martyr for the Opposition. While PAS was hardly an idea vehicle for the Saudi agenda – PAS tend to have the subtlety of a tsunami with none of the visual appeal – Anwar’s path to political power, though diverted, was not permanently foreclosed. Anwar and his backers therefore dug in, certain that the street rallies and political unrest would give Anwar his opportunity sooner than later.

They were of course incorrect, but no one knew it then, and in the wake of Barisan Nasional’s poor showing at the Tenth General Election, many things seemed possible.

In early August 2000, I met with a couple of old chums, fellow compilers of the I-Files, to discuss the things decent men start to discuss as they age – family, investments, taxes, luxury automobiles, and women with whom they would never cheat on their spouses, though they sometimes almost wish they could. We were in Singapore, the air was alive with the raw energy of the place, and it was with no small amount of fear and awe that we discussed the cost of sending our various offspring to university.

We turned after a time to Anwar’s sodomy trial, which had just concluded the month before. I confess that by this time I was beginning to centre my operations elsewhere, and I had therefore begun to pay smaller amounts of attention to the day-to-day of Malaysian politics than had been true for most of two decades. Nevertheless, the whole, over-100-day-long affair had finally come to a conclusion, and so we discussed the likely outcome.

After expounding on the entire matter and the shoddy nature of the Government case, the Irishman to my left knocked back his Dewar’s and sagely said, “Oh, he did it. And they’ll doubtless convict him, though I’m not sure I would. What a fooking mess.”

I nodded at the last. “To think, it took over 100 days to arrive! Gentlemen, we missed our calling. We should have been lawyers.” A round of drinks followed that as we toyed with that. We were turning to sport – well, truthfully, we were turning to another round of drinks and perhaps a wobbly trip up to our separate rooms to sleep off the effects of too much alcohol and too much age – when our fourth companion showed up, impolitely sober.

“Anwar has been found guilty,” he said, and we all toasted each other for no reason at all other than being on the wrong side of drunk. Our sober friend gave us all an odd look, but by that point, none of us cared, or even knew exactly why we were toasting.

Anwar was of course convicted of sodomising his driver, a defeat he quickly turned into yet another public relations coup. He was imprisoned, politically neutralised for a time, and clearly biding his time.

Over the next several months, we would compile the data I have provided here and in earlier chapters on his financial empire as we worked to reconstruct how this man who started with relatively little came so very close to success, and to the status of ultra-rich by any national measure.

But the story of his political resurrection – a story on which I have only touched briefly – will be the story of the next couple of chapters.

CHAPTER ELEVEN: WHAT WE LEARNT DURING ANWAR’S TRIAL

As I’ve noted elsewhere in this tale, Kuala Lumpur was once a very different place. It was dirtier, but it was in many ways more fun – easier to get a draught of beer, easier to find a way to discharge some of one’s wild youth under a clear sky. By 1998, KL was much like it is now, with the gleaming, new Petronas Towers dominating the landscape, and so much of Malaysia’s controlled vibrancy on display.

It was this way of course until Anwar’s trial began.

It is a bit hard to describe the tumult and chaos of those days, but perhaps this will suffice: I have seen reports that among the protesters and anarchists, the throngs gathered around to view history, and of course the legions of local and foreign reporters, camera crews, and aides, there was a witch doctor present.

As anyone who spent any time around that court house knows: Bollocks. There were three. Two worked in tandem, even exchanging their foul-smelling head dress as they changed shifts. I have no idea why they did what they did, but they felt it terribly important that at any time a Western reporter was present, so should be a witch doctor, and preferably the same one – to Western eyes.

It was the third one whom I found so very interesting. He just stood off to the side whilst every carried on, then stopped forward at odd moments to shake what I believe to be a rattle manufactured in Guangdong and chant incoherently.

After seeing him perform this little manoeuvre for three straight days, I finally approached him and asked what it was he was doing. He grinned at me with bright, white teeth and said in an accent that could have been right out of Sydney, “That bloke in there is the Devil. Completely starkers. Gotta send him off.”

This struck me as hilarious, and by the time I’d asked if he meant Anwar or someone else he was gone, suddenly pressed for interviews by American reporters who’d discovered a ‘local’ who could speak English.

I never knew if he meant Anwar or the presiding judge. Probably both.

I tell this tale not merely to provide you a glimpse of what the biggest trial of the decade (with the possible exception of the strangeness going on with America at the time) looked like from the sidewalks, but to illustrate the hundreds of small details lost in any momentous event unless one happens to be in exactly the right place or the right time. Most of us must spend small fortunes on information gleaned from dozens of sources, eliminating the chaff and getting pieces of data at a time.

During the event itself, without being in the midst of all of the action and chaos, one is largely left with the sorts of things everyone knows – or could know, if they only paid attention. This was the most turbulent time of all for the I-Files, as many of our usual sources were either in fear of police detention, in fear of Anwar, or in fear of Mahathir. What we were able to glean during the events was dearly-bought – very dearly.

For that reason, this installment and the next will not focus so much on what we all know – Anwar was duly charged with sodomy and corrupt practices in two separate trials, the Western world claimed the trial was a political sham, Anwar was convicted of both … the tale is welltold. Instead, I will attempt to focus on the details that our boys managed to acquire between September 1998 and Anwar’s conviction for sodomy in August 2000.

We will begin with notes.

By then, Anwar’s extensive press operation – the one he had managed to build and fund outside his extensive network in the regular press in Malaysia – was not well-known. Today, it is not only found in Soros-funded online operations in Malaysia but in nominally grassroots efforts in the Peninsular, Borneo, Australia, and the United States.

I noted before our surprise at the gorgeous press kits Anwar’s supporters provided the reporters, clearly bespeaking the involvement of slick designers and Western media advisers. It was a surprise to receive, in return for a little over ten thousand ringgits, a copy of a pre-draft of a press release prepared for Anwar’s review just after he was released from detention.

There were several edits in red ink and meticulously written in a bold hand. I was particularly struck by one edit in particular: the ghost writer, apparently knowing Anwar’s penchant for the Bard’s works, had included a paragraph with Anwar comparing himself to Richard III, and quoting from the famous soliloquy in that play. Anwar – or whoever made the edits, though I was given to understand that it was Anwar – had scratched out the section and written, RICHARD II in its place.

Shakespeare’s Richard III was of course the story of the vicious, unnatural and monstrous tyrant thwarted before he could consolidate power. Richard II was a tale of a weak man who was unable to stand for himself in the end.

I do not understand why Anwar bothered keeping either. Henry IV would have been better, and at any rate had more appropriate speeches.

There were also notes about the compatibility of Islam and democracy – ironic from Anwar of all people – and a pre-emptive declaration that the courts which Anwar as DPM and Finance Minister had spent the past decade praising and defending were now too biased to provide a fair trial.

Although it appears that the fellow who procured this for me was a bit too anxious – the exact text as written never made it into Anwar’s diatribes – it was a useful preview of what was to come.

Bundled with that speech were a handful of ink-jet printed pages with talking points. I chuckled as I saw COMPARISONS and beneath it SAKHAROV, GANDHI, MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR. Added in red ink were SUU KYI and MANDELA. Beneath that was a section titled CORE MESSAGES, which I reproduce below, with the notations and strikethroughs included.

And yes, I noted the American spellings as well.

THE CHARGES AGAINST ME ARE POLITICALLY MOTIVATED. Mahathir’s afraid that his corrupt practises are finally catching up to him. I have bravely exposed his system of favoritism and cronyism and am paying the price for it.

I REPRESENT A NEW REFORM MOVEMENT. Much as in Indonesia, the old tyrants are falling before democracy people power democratic reforms. I worked to bring free market and democratic reforms to Malaysian society and have been fired sacked, tortured and imprisoned for it.

SODOMY IS NOT A CRIME. The law under which I have been charged is a relic of Malaysia’s colonial past, and modern nations recognize that relations between two men should not be a crime.

I AM INNOCENT OF THE CHARGES AGAINST ME. I am a devout Muslim, and I have never engaged in adultery, let alone this sort of act. My former driver has been threatened, bribed and intimidated into lying about me and my stepbrother. Even Malaysia’s biased judiciary will recognize this. This is clearly a plot by the Government to hide my status as a political prisoner.

I did not know it then, but of course these would become Anwar’s talking points for the next fourteen years.

I thumbed through these pages and noted a single point, one that would recur with frequency for years to come. Anwar’s most vociferous denials were always about the sodomy, but the corruption allegations seemed almost irrelevant at times. At that point, in November 1998, with the corruption trial just getting underway, I was struck by this contrast.

I considered the report Philip had delivered to me the week before. An informant had managed to somehow acquire firsthand knowledge of Anwar’s last chance to redeem himself before Mahathir and the Umno Supreme Council.

There, Anwar had argued that his moral weaknesses were not unique, and that others in the Cabinet were guilty of the same thing. He compounded this error by refusing to admit that he’d moved for a succession too quickly, and instead demanded that Mahathir step down as a “relic” who was out of touch with Malaysia. He also suggested that he knew of indiscretions on Mahathir’s part, and that those could come to light as well.

Mahathir had demanded that Anwar leave immediately. The rest was history.

Why was sodomy so much worse than corruption?

I would never learn the answer to that question, but as time went by and Anwar angrily responded to every allegation made against him with vociferous – and apparently well-paid-for – press releases; as the Free Anwar movement was born a mix of well-intentioned souls believing Anwar’s ridiculous claims, well-intentioned souls not particularly caring about Anwar’s claims, and of course Anwar’s cronies, desperate for another day in the sun; and as Malaysia slowly returned to its more pacific ways, we were able to secure more information by turns.

One was a stack of internal memoranda from foreign intelligence services’ in-country shops.

Almost all of it was concerned with four essential questions: Firstly, did Anwar do it? Secondly, what would he do next? Thirdly, what would the effect on Malaysia’s opposition parties be? And fourthly, would Mahathir tolerate a new political party formed around Anwar?

The American Embassy worked to quash this investigation from its intelligence services – especially the first part – for reasons that were never altogether clear to us. However, after personnel changes at the Embassy in December 1998, the investigation apparently took off as Embassy opposition ended. Despite these suggestive facts, we have never been able to determine if the change in the Embassy stance was innocent or not.

Regardless of all that, the intelligence services’ verdicts appeared to be that Anwar had indeed partaken of numerous corrupt practices during his time in Government, but that although Anwar may have engaged in sodomy at some points in time, the specific allegations against him for this sodomy trial were likely not true. There was a conflict on the latter point, and many of the reports simply suggested that in the absence of definitive proof, they would presume innocence.

What Anwar would do next appeared to be a sort of chaotic, shambolic rush from one idea to the next. With his corruption trial underway and Mahathir promising a Royal Commission of Inquiry on the abuse Anwar claimed to have suffered in detention, Anwar was in the weakest position of his political life. His abuse was the subject of a gold-standard review, and the crimes he was least prepared to deny were coming to a head.

The Opposition was, as usual, in a bit of a mess. Just a few months before, Mat Sabu had offered his unsolicited opinion that Anwar would be a worse prime minister than Mahathir. Karpal Singh, as I noted before, had denounced Anwar as a homosexual. The distaste that Lim Kit Siang had for Anwar would be hard to express in mere words. I am reliably informed that Nik Aziz thought Anwar beneath contempt.

Intelligence reports suggested a flurry of calls from Anwar to his former enemies, calls promptly placed on ice. A second flurry of calls went between the men who had been Malaysia’s opposition for decades as they worked to decide whether to accept into their midst a man who had spent over a decade and a half not merely opposing them, but working to undermine them and attack them at every turn.

For PAS, this was no great decision; politics and allegations of homosexuality notwithstanding, Anwar had been their sort of chap for years before joining Government, and once safely ensconced there, had shown a satisfying tendency toward the sorts of policies PAS always held dear.

DAP presented a dilemma, one which even the famously opportunistic leadership of that party had a hard time abandoning. Anwar had ruthlessly worked not merely to hold the status quo on bumiputra favouritism, he had worked relentlessly to undermine the Chinese and any Christians in Malaysia. To embrace Anwar was to embrace one of their worst enemies, better only than Mahathir. It was to betray their voters and their party rank-and-file.

Naturally they were the first to reach out to Anwar and welcome him into Opposition.

The question of what Anwar would do next and how Mahathir reacted would be answered just before the first verdict against Anwar was handed down.

By the end of March 1999, Anwar’s corruption trial was clearly drawing to a close. Informants from inside the government informed us that the general elections would not be held until at least this verdict was complete, as Mahathir had spent the last several months working unsuccessfully to combat Anwar’s public relations machine in the West and at home. The old man clearly wanted to be able to say that if Anwar was cleared of corruption charges – to his mind, the worse offences Anwar had committed – then he would be able to stand for election.

The so-called Reformasi movement had fairly obviously been intended as a political vehicle since Anwar launched it at the end of the prior year, and many of us were surprised that it had not simply started life as a political party. While we understood – better than most – that success often involves preparing the ground early, Anwar’s self-made role as martyr was such that he could have launched the movement and formed the party at the same time.

One might be inclined to offer him the benefit of the doubt, as he had a great deal on his mind at the time; but as time has passed, I’ve come to see that Anwar’s great skill in rising the ranks at Umno was either a gift he had lost or a gift he’d borrowed from those around him. Without a surrounding cast of cronies and enablers situated to aid him, Anwar’s skill with politics seemed meagre indeed.

Nevertheless, in April 1999, after months of staged difficulties in registering as a political party, at Anwar’s behest Wan Azizah executed what can only charitably be called a leveraged buyout of a tiny regional party and re-named it Parti Keadilan Nasional, apparently because Anwar has no sense of irony. It was great theatre: denied a chance to challenge the evil Barisan Nasional, the plucky rebels take on an existing party and transform it into a vehicle for Justice.

The problem with this narrative of course was that even though PKN would face the same challenges that had allegedly forestalled the creation of a separate party, its registration sailed through.

In another dodgy bit of trouble for Anwar’s story, the RCI concluded that Anwar had been abused and that Inspector-General of Police Rahim Noor should receive the blame for that abuse. The story of the lawless country run amok at the hands of the tyrant was weakened.

All of this was on my mind when I received a call on 14 April to tell me that Anwar had been convicted of corrupt practices.

Much of the rest of this part of Anwar’s tale is well-known. Anwar was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, a verdict that would ultimately be largely upheld but for a single count being reversed. PKN formed a strategic alliance with DAP, PAS, and PRM to form an Opposition alliance that would make it through the general elections and then promptly fall apart over the eternal issue of hudud law.

Anwar’s sodomy trial picked up steam in June as the government prosecutors and Anwar’s defence team entered into an informal competition to see who could bungle the entire thing worse. From my vantage, it was a draw.

Anwar would write to his old Islamist chums extensively from prison, some of which became available to us. In 1999, Anwar wrote from prison to one of his co-founders at the IIIT: “In the quiet solitude of prison, I’m able to recollect vividly our meetings in Riyadh beginning more than 20 years ago. In spite our shared ideals, we were always engaged in heated debates on the issues of wasilah and fiqh awlawiyyat. Unfamiliar as I was with loud Arab rhetoric, I had to force a readjustment of my subdued mannerisms – in other words, my Malayness – just so I could be heard. But, each time, it was the diplomatic mastery of Dr Ahmad Totonji that brought about an amicable end to our debates.”

Totonji, of course, was the Iraqi fellow who had helped Anwar join up with the Saudi backers on whom he would rely for the rest of his life. But he was also so much more.

It is with the sodomy trial and the world’s reaction to it – and the things the world neither learned nor cared to learn – that the next chapter will concern itself.

CHAPTER TEN: ANWAR IN FREE FALL

September 1998 was actually quite pleasant, as the climate goes. The temperature did not seem much above 30 degrees, and there always seemed to be a breeze waiting about.

It was also the end of the third chapter of Anwar’s life, and the beginning of the fourth. Despite what he would have you believe, his sacking and his rapid race to the streets, followed by his trip to court, did not augur any change in the weather, nor did it change his political fortunes. It did, however, completely alter the way Malaysia functions as a polity; it energised and – paradoxically – permanently neutered the Opposition, adding a different old face to the old faces already so prevalent in the DAP and PAS.

But that is getting ahead of things a bit.

I am going to break from the narrative format in which I have engaged to date, as the story of Anwar’s final fall and the days that followed is not appreciably more interesting with notes of my goings-on at the time. Suffice it to say that, as I said before, I made a great deal of money by predicting and helping foreign entities through the change in the Government’s structure, and that my tightly-knit group of ex-pats met frequently, especially when the riots began, to determine if Malaysia was descending slowly and inexorably into chaos.

So we begin with the first week of September, when all that Anwar had built finally crashed down upon him.

On the evening of 1 September 1998, Mahathir summoned the Mentris Besar to a room in his private residence, after it had been swept by one Malaysian, one British, and one American security firm for electronic listening devices. A military-grade ‘static’ device was activated to eliminate electronic eavesdropping from a distance. Each MB was patted down. Mahathir himself submitted to the pat-down to demonstrate that this was serious.

To each man, Mahathir handed a thick folder of photographs, bank ledgers, invoices, communiques, electronic mail, and corporate records. Each was a synopsis of the file the old man had kept on his Deputy Prime Minister for years, grown with the frantic investigations of the last three months. Mahathir walked them through each photograph, each document, each note.

Anwar’s financial dealings, his Saudi ties, his coup attempt, his backdoor dealings with PAS, everything was in those files in some level of detail. The photos included pictures of Anwar in compromising positions with – I am told – both men and women.

Mahathir was never one to let on weakness where others could see it, but he was actually seeking these men’s counsel. Could Anwar be saved even now? Should he be?

They gave their verdict, to which Mahathir said nothing. Each copy of the file, even Mahathir’s, was shredded, burned, and liquefied with acid. To this day, I bitterly regret not paying an acquisition fee for more than a summary of those files.

The press, by that point camped outside of Mahathir’s and Anwar’s residences, was oblivious to most of this, as usual.

The next morning, Mahathir summoned his lieutenant and demanded his resignation. Anwar refused, and Mahathir gave him an afternoon deadline to reconsider. Anwar’s response was to begin preparations for street protests, and to send carefully-worded messages to foreign reporters and politicians that the same riots that had brought down Suharto in Jakarta a handful of months before.

Anwar’s supporters began to gather at his residence and, in a particularly clever move, started to hand out candles to women in the group to light that evening. Reporters, massing before this, became a throng.

That evening, Anwar received the letter notifying him of being sacked. The candles were lit. Praying began.

Wan Azizah left, allegedly to say farewell to Siti Hasmah. The story quickly leaked out to anyone who would listen that the two women had hugged and wept. Anyone who loves the theatre could appreciate it.

The crowd swelled through the night, and when Anwar made his departure (after enormous fanfare) the next day, they followed him to his private residence. There, he gave what is now a famous press conference, the theme of which would become Anwar’s chorus for over a decade: I am the victim of a plot at the highest levels of Government. They have targeted me because of my reforming spirit. I’m the best chance for democracy in this hell-hole, and that is why they are after me.

As we listened to his interview on CNBC that evening, we were struck by a man who had twisted and corrupted governance to his own end, taking by theft and graft untold billions in the process, who had worked to turn Malaysia into a redoubt for Wahhabi theocracy, who had launched attacks on the Chinese and the Christians, and who had worked to launch a bloodless coup against Dr M, tell the world that it was his reforming spirit that brought him low.

I lie. We were not struck. Once we were able to close our jaws, we laughed.

Anwar made a show of heading to prayers for the cameras as the Umno Supreme Council began to assemble for the meeting Mahathir had called. Well-placed and well-paid Anwar supporters began to throw garbage at those considered Anwar’s enemies, especially Najib Razak and Mahathir.

When Anwar arrived, strategically-placed reporters began to chant “Reformasi!” for the cameras.

This was no accident. Suharto had fallen before exactly that cry in Indonesia months before, cast aside by the military and his party’s leadership, and Anwar was trying to convince credulous reporters that Mahathir was poised on the same razor’s edge.

Anwar was unceremoniously drummed out of Umno by a unanimous vote.

Anwar emerged to give a speech to the crowd, which by then was largely composed of paid Anwar supporters. If the man understood anything in his heart of hearts, it was street theatre. He called for quiet, and with wads of ringgits in hand, the crowd went silent. Anwar told them that the charges against him were false, and that he would fight them to the end. Anwar’s lieutenants called for applause, and chants of Allahu Ackbar! rose from the crowd. CNN’s and BBC’s cameras picked up every instant of it. As well they should have; Anwar’s people had spent hours helping them set up in precisely the right spots, clearing the crowd as needed.

The protesters took some time to throw more garbage at Mahathir and the rest of the Supreme Council as they left. They then promptly went home, got a good night’s rest, and waited for the next cash drop.

What happened next raises a single question: Was the ABIM Anwar ever truly gone, or had he merely gone into hiding for a decade and a half?

Anwar made a great show of beginning a nationwide tour, to fight against corruption and cronyism. His press operation, which we had theretofore believed limited to Malaysia, distributed professional-quality press kits to foreign and domestic media, including high-quality glossies of a righteous Anwar exhorting some faraway crowd. Those photos would be used in newspapers domestic and foreign, and in international television shows covering the event.

The photo was from a handful of years before, at an Umno gathering, denouncing Lim Kit Siang’s allegations of corruption in Umno. Perhaps most damningly, it was a Reuters photograph, and yet no one at Reuters seemed to recognise it. Or if they did, they did not bother to mention it.

Anwar’s ‘national tour’ was cancelled once, then cancelled again. His stated reason was fear that he would be subjected to violence. The press ate it up.

The real reason was that he was mobilizing the money he had put into play to bring down Mahathir to try to re-create Indonesia’s chaos from six months before, to force Mahathir to step down. All of the talk of a nationwide tour was kabuki theatre; nationwide tours are for politicians hustling their trade, not revolutionaries trying to accomplish by violence what democratic procedures could not.

Across Malaysia, protesters were paid thousands of ringgits to come into the streets and cheer, and so out they came, and cars were set on fire, and marches held, and riot police and water cannons deployed.

The United were dominating Premier League football that season, so one supposes these chaps felt they weren’t missing much by not staying glued to the telly. United of course had an historic run, so those chaps not only got a face full of water cannon, they also missed history.

Anwar was at their head, and Anwar was in the streets. He was reliving his youth, leading cheering masses demanding what they had been paid to demand. He was working to throw Malaysia into chaos, and the camera crews were lined up to see it all.

He was Anwar. He was BJ Habibie. Mahathir was Suharto. The end was nigh.

It was here that we not only saw that the old Anwar was either back or had never truly gone, but also that Anwar had developed a profound streak of incompetence somewhere along the way, for he got the entire process quite backward.

Suharto faced months of riots over increasing poverty, social disruption, and years of brutal, totalitarian government of a kind never experienced in Malaysia. Only after all of this was done did his support in his own party and in the armed forces dry up, forcing him to step down for his successor.

Mahathir’s successor had lost the support of his party, had been cast out, and then small-scale riots erupt, led by Anwar’s men and made up overwhelmingly by those paid handsomely to appear.

Worse for Anwar, by then, Habibie’s increased international and national stature had begun to bring out some of his less desirable qualities – his corruption, his tendency to be all things to all people, and his grasping ambition.

He was every bit the con artist Anwar was, but not the con artist Anwar wanted anyone to think him.

Leading riots – a frontal assault on Malaysia’s democracy – was the final straw for Mahathir, and so Anwar was arrested under the Internal Security Act. When he was beaten in custody,

Mahathir demanded that heads roll, and I am given to understand that he meant that precisely. He understood that Anwar was playing the martyr for the whole world to see, and that anything that took away from his corruption and lawlessness was not merely criminal, but criminally stupid.

True to form, when Anwar appeared in public, he played every inch the wounded hero. The exaggeration was obvious – he famously threw off a back brace during his trial whilst he thought no one was watching – but he had another critical piece of his puzzle as the beleaguered martyr.

The Saudi Foreign Minister sought to intervene to protect their investment, ringing Mahathir directly and begging for forgiveness. Mahathir was and is many things, but inclined to have his commitment to Islam questioned – as his interlocutor did – he is not. The call ended with the Saudi cut off mid-word.

The United States sought to intervene, threatening Malaysia with an end to foreign aid and sanctions the likes of which had crippled South Africa a decade before. They too were ignored.

Anwar was charged under the ISA, and then charged with corruption and sodomy. The story of his trial is for next time, but I briefly wish to return to something I mentioned in my last installment.

I am not altogether comfortable discussing Anwar’s sex life, and not merely because I believe him a repulsive person. The rumours of his infidelity, with men and women, were such that I received credible reports that his wife paid private contractors to follow him and his paramours about. These rumours, which began not long before he became Education Minister, only increased in frequency over time.

So widely believed were these stories that Karpal Singh – who would later unabashedly declare them defamatory – repeated those same stories in public during Anwar’s tenure in Government.

Although I do not know Anwar’s sexual proclivities and have little desire to explore them in any meaningful way, it is not the uncertain nature of the charges that stays my hand.

The strain on Wan Azizah is the source of my reluctance. The lady is no child, and matches Anwar’s ambition with ease, far surpassing him in cunning and brilliance. But she clearly loves her husband, and these stories clearly wounded her then and wound her now.

Thus, if the stories are true – and a raft of evidence, video and otherwise, court decisions, whispers on the ground, the testimony of victims, and Wikileaks cables strongly suggest they are – then Anwar Ibrahim is not merely a ruthless radical whose corruption in Government is matched only by his incompetence out of it.

He is also a cad, a small man who abuses the most precious gift a woman can give a man: her trust. And I do not like bringing it up for what it does to his wife, because my father raised me better than that.

But then again, isn’t that the story of Anwar’s life? One betrayal of trust after another? Of his ABIM allies, of Umno as he brought ABIM values into it, of his mentor and father figure, of his wife, of his Government?

That question would in its own way occupy centre stage along with protesters, witch doctors, and a bizarre cast of characters over the course of nearly three months. From the crucible would emerge the Anwar the whole would could come to love, a new Anwar whose old infatuation with poetry and clean governance would sweep aside for so many the man who’d corrupted a generation of Malaysian youth and liberally helped himself to so much graft.

The next chapter in Anwar’s life was set to begin.

CHAPTER NINE: THE FALL

I have always had a lurking admiration for those who could keep their lies straight. It’s a deucedly hard thing to do, so I’ve generally left it to others. I have had the advantage, in both government and private work, of being disbelieved by many with whom I interact by the nature of my job for most of my life, so I’ve been free to be honest to a fault. Just by being honest, others keep better track of what I say than I do.

Anwar Ibrahim has gone a long way by never being honest the same way for any two groups of people. I truly believe that this stems from a fundamental defect at his core – I’ve suggested before that he is a man without a face, who can put on whatever face is needed for the occasion.

According to the Company’s best psych-profile of Anwar, he is a genuine narcissist. And like most narcissists, he truly believes he occupies a special place at the centre of the universe, and this appears to make his constantly-evolving statements and self-characterisations honest, if not necessarily true.

We used to laugh out loud at Anwar’s utterly unabashed self-descriptions as being the next great martyr, the next Nelson Mandela, the next Aung San Suu Kyi, whoever struck his fancy that day.

In retrospect, this was terribly small of us; it’s rather like laughing at the fellow who truly believes he’s Napoleon.

However, whether this was a mental disorder or a personality defect is beyond my capacity to diagnose. What we do know is that this critical trait gave him the ability to seamlessly move between completely contradictory social circles and groups, always telling them – and seeming to believe – exactly what they wanted to hear. And he lived quite well off of it.

To this day, many still believe the first image he gave them. For American liberals, he was the earnest, moderate reformer. For PAS types he drew to Umno and his old guard in ABIM, he was the radical out to make Malaysia a perfect Islamic state. For the neoconservatives, he was a bulwark against what they perceived as the next great threat: Islamic radicalism. To Western reporters – whose policy preference overlapped strongly with American liberals – he was the Shakespeare-quoting, dedicated believer of reform from within. To Mahathir Mohamad, he was the capable son and political heir, the outsider who became the insider and who saw Mahathir as a surrogate parent.

To them all, he was a man of the people, a man of principle and honesty. Nonsense. Anwar Ibrahim is a man who made a great deal of money and power out of corruption and graft, and has never bothered to apologise for it. He is a man who all but banned Christmas in Malaysia and was on track to drive the Chinese out and close down their schools.

In the days before the internet and social media was an everyday fixture, this sort of duplicity was easy. He played them all for fools.

But as an American president once said, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you simply cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The Asian Financial Crisis encouraged Anwar to let his mask slip, and he did; and when the fooling ended, the real game began.

It is little remembered now, but in 1998, Karpal Singh, then already a supremo in DAP, publicly accused Anwar Ibrahim of homosexuality, sodomy, and fornication with both men and women other than his wife. He demanded, in public, at a DAP conference, and in the Dewan Rakyat, that Mahathir explain why he was keeping such a man in his Cabinet, and demanded that Anwar be dismissed or resign, for the good of the nation.

Then as now this was not a charge lightly made. Although Mahathir was publicly and angrily denying it, this sent a minor shockwave through the world of politics. The news of this demand made it to my desk along with a number of other details that, for the first time, told me that Anwar was on uncertain ground.

It was a warm evening, and a humid breeze wafted past. I was reviewing the stack of pages accumulated over the last month as I leveraged every bit of information at my disposal to beat alpha during the Asian Financial Crisis. I’d decided a few days before to end our holdings in the ringgit, gambling that Mahathir would win out and take the currency off the foreign exchanges. Here was a hastily scribbled copy of a note Chandra Muzaffar had sent to Anwar begging him not to try to bring down Mahathir in the midst of this terrible crisis. Now was not the time, he said here and elsewhere, to “take down the captain of the ship.”

Here was a note on the ringgit’s fall against all major currencies, with both public and private ratings on its creditworthiness. Private analysis said that foreign investment would only return with Mahathir’s mega-projects, and that Anwar’s attempt to dismantle them all at once would destroy the currency and the economy.

Here was a list of interviews with business reporters at the New Straits Times, Utusan Malaysia, the Star, and TV3, all of whom had been summoned to Anwar’s office for specific instruction on how his programmes were to be portrayed in print. One print reporter was ordered to transition into broadcast work; when she refused, she claimed, Anwar threatened her until she in turn threatened to go public with the story.

Here was Newsweek naming Anwar ‘Asian of the Year.’ The story barely bore reading, but months later, when Newsweek was a laughing stock for having buried the story on President Clinton’s affairs in the White House, the catastrophe the newsweekly had become was complete.

I sipped some scotch. My sons were in bed, my daughter in her crib, my wife was doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. I should have been enjoying a quiet moment. Instead, I was trying to determine how this saga played out next.

I turned back to the handwritten notes I’d received on Mahathir’s meetings with his private circle. It was by now fairly clear that the war Anwar had started in Hong Kong and that had continued through the fall and winter was coming to a head. There was already talk that the Umno General Assembly in June was when Anwar would make his move, trying to force Mahathir to step down once and for all.

My intelligence sources all concurred that over a billion ringgit was in play for the final move, from Anwar’s own holdings at Hong Leong and Al Baraka. It was the Ghafar Baba Operation all over again, but on a far grander scale.

Another sip of scotch as I breezed through the executive summary of 50 Reasons Why Anwar Can Not Be Prime Minister, a delightful tract that accused the Deputy Prime Minister of everything from murder to embezzlement to fornication to sodomy to being a CIA spy. That last was particularly funny. I knew all of the CIA spies in Malaysia’s government, and Anwar was definitely not one of them.

The important thing about 50 Reasons was not its allegations, but rather the fact that it was not merely being published, but widely distributed as well. Mahathir was clearly firing a warning shot at Anwar, who was by that point either too proud or too taken with his own cleverness to understand what was coming.

Anwar’s men were already telling anyone who would listen that the upcoming Umno General Assembly would be entirely about cronyism and nepotism, especially in Umno, and especially in the contracts doled out for the mega-projects. Of course there was cronyism in those projects!

The Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister had personally seen to it.

Undoubtedly, the targets were Mahathir’s family, and the families of other Anwar enemies in Umno. Anwar was trying to recreate the Indonesian regime change that was in the process of happening as I sipped my scotch – he was trying to make Mahathir into Suharto and, laughably to anyone who knew Habibie, Anwar into Habibie.

Suharto was a corrupt autocrat whose children were granted monopolies over critical industries. Mahathir was the duly-elected prime minister of a democratic nation, whose children were associated with both successful and unsuccessful ventures in competitive industries.

As I sat watching the moon rise, I rather wondered if Anwar understood that the difference was more than semantic. Without widespread discontent and the resulting domestic and international pressure, as Suharto had faced, there would be and could be no leverage to force the old man to step down. Whatever Mahathir’s faults, whatever may be said of Malaysia’s political system in 1998, the comparison was simply ridiculous.

To top it off, word was that Daim Zainuddin was being recalled from semi-retirement to essentially take over Anwar’s portfolio.

For the first time, on the eve of the Umno General Assembly, with what felt like the world crashing down on us, I understood that Anwar was probably a spent force, and simply did not know it yet.

June 1998 was probably the month when Anwar realised he had lost his gamble.

Things started inauspiciously when Anwar picked the first week of June to begin his attack. He issued a public call – echoed by his crony, Umno Youth chief Zahid Hamidi, to stop cronyism in Umno and in the bumi mega-companies. By now his plan was out in the open – too out in the open – and so most everyone recognised this as the beginning of the putsch on Mahathir, rather than as a sincere call for reform.

Anwar seemed nonplussed by the collective yawn he received.

Less than a week later, Zahid promised to produce examples of corruption in Mahathir’s megaprojects at the General Assembly. Ahead of the event, lists – prominently featuring Mahathir’s son – were distributed to anyone who might even seem to have a passing interest.

Unbidden, Mahathir announced that there was no split between him and Anwar.

By then, Anwar was cagey enough to understand that Mahathir was letting his protégé know that the game was over, and there was still time to back down. We will never know why Anwar went ahead: Was it because he felt he had no choice? Did he still think he could win? Was he hoping to push Mahathir to announce a retirement timetable?

On June 18, 1998, the Umno General Assembly began, and every attendee was on edge. Copies of 50 Reasons were liberally handed out. Early copies of the lists of corrupt bumiputra projects were distributed. Behind the scenes, Anwar sent Mahathir a letter gushing with praise, promising that the future would be as glorious as the one Mahathir had made as Prime Minister.

Anwar did not know then that Mahathir had convened almost the entire Supreme Council for three hours on the night before the General Assembly began.

Zahid released the list of corrupt projects and ventures, and at the top, for all to see, was Mahathir’s son.

On June 19, 1998, a new list was released, that of the shareholders in privatised bumiputra companies. Anwar’s family and cronies were liberally represented, with millions of shares held between them – his father and brothers holding millions alone.

But everyone knows that story. The real coup came that night when the Supreme Council – through Najib Razak – announced that the Government would be releasing lists of the recipients of privatised projects for the sake of good governance.

In one move, Mahathir had managed to surpass Anwar’s reformer credentials, used his hated rival Najib to deliver the blow, and most importantly tell Anwar that all of the Deputy Prime Minister’s shady dealings would now be public knowledge. In the space of a day, Mahathir neatly disarmed Anwar once and for all.

I am reliably informed that Anwar raged and wept by turns that night. There were rumours that he buried his pain in an extramarital liaison that night, but I’ve long believed those to be fantasy.

Anwar publicly denied any desire to try for the Presidency of Umno in the next year’s elections. Mahathir took the occasion to say he would support Anwar against any challengers for the number two spot in Umno. No challengers appeared. By now, Anwar understood the message: His political survival was in Mahathir’s hands. Two days later, he made a public profession of support for Mahathir – amusingly, in a pantun – publicly chastened and brought down to Earth.

Mahathir was not finished with his wayward disciple. A handful of days later, he appointed Daim Zainuddin, Anwar’s predecessor, as Special Functions Minister – a post specially created to aid in implementing Mahathir’s policies in response to the Financial Crisis, taking on many of the roles of … the Finance Minister. Daim would of course report directly to Mahathir.

Both Anwar and Mahathir made clear that there was no threat to Anwar in this, and that Anwar retained Mahathir’s full confidence. Neither believed it.

It was obvious to all of us by early July that Mahathir was both punishing Anwar and giving him a final chance at salvation. Everyone knew that Mahathir kept private files on everyone in his Government, and he has clearly opened that file on Anwar.

But one must remember the back story: Mahathir himself had fallen from grace, once. He had campaigned with PAS while in exile, he’d gone to war with Umno, but in the end, he’d been brought back in from the cold and rocketed to the top.

I believed then, as I believe now, that Mahathir was testing Anwar under pressure. If Anwar had pledged himself a faithful servant – which he did – and then stood by that pledge – which he did not – Mahathir would have let the whole matter disappear.

And Anwar’s public professions of loyalty were frequent, they were widely publicised, they appeared earnest, and they showed up in every major daily.

But behind the scenes, it was a different story. Instead of taking the entire episode as a lesson in humility and better planning, Anwar took it as a sign that his last chance was slipping away. A flurry of urgent emails and calls went out to Anwar’s friends at home and abroad, through proxies and third-parties, begging for an increase in the international pressure. Bank Negara officers lined up to support Anwar and turn a blind eye to capital flows back into Malaysia from offshore havens. Editors in print and media played up his statute and loyalty while reminding the nation how poorly the economy was performing under Mahathir. George Soros opened his direct lines to Anwar, and the entire American foreign policy establishment began unsubtly calling for Mahathir’s resignation. The IMF floated the idea of aid being tied to Mahathir’s absence. Tony Blair, still getting his stride at Number 10 (Number 11, really), spent hours on the phone with Anwar, working to leverage out the old man.

Everyone with business concerns in Malaysia was on edge. Mahathir was a known quantity, but Anwar had made his entire public career out of being the precise opposite. Every foreigner was looking, desperately, for someone with in-country experience and a network of informants and contacts for that most precious thing of all to every investor: certainty.

In the three months following the Umno General Assembly, I made back every penny I’d lost during the Financial Crisis.

Anwar lost nearly everything he had spent twenty years building.

August was so very quiet. Everything seemed balanced on a knife’s fine edge. Reports leaked out of both Mahathir’s and Anwar’s offices about what was happening. Mahathir had demanded Anwar’s resignation. Anwar had threatened to take compromising pictures to the press. Anwar had resigned. The men had eaten together, hashed out their differences, and were stronger than ever.

That last rumour almost certainly came, indirectly, from Azmin Ali. We all disregarded it.

The daily affirmations of loyalty from Anwar continued. Mahathir remained largely silent.

We now know how August went: Anwar diligently worked to shore up his badly-damaged position in Umno whilst Mahathir built up a legal case against Anwar – he knew in July that Anwar was still working to topple him. By mid-August, he had sufficient evidence – so everyone in his office believed – to try Anwar for corruption and embezzlement, without destroying the people’s faith in the Government Mahathir had built.

It was careful, it was complex, it was deliberate, and it was ultimately successful; but in the end, the damage Anwar did in his political death-throes was almost as great as the damage he’d done in office.

Wan Azizah stoically complained to the Borneo Post, late that August, that Siti Hasmah had snubbed her at National Day celebrations in Penang. The two had once been terribly close; by now, it was obvious that every relationship Anwar had cultivated was in danger.

Mahathir began a quiet sweep of the newsrooms, and began isolating Anwar’s editors as he had Anwar when he brought in Daim. Ahmad Dom, the Bank Negara governor, and Fong Weng Phak, his lieutenant, resigned. Both men had been in Anwar’s circle of cronies; they knew their time was nearly up.

It is hard to imagine now, but the tension as the Sodomy II verdict approached, or in the aftermath of the Twelfth General Elections, was a fraction of what the nation experienced that August. Hot, balmy days became filled with a terrible electricity. Everyone knew that something was coming from one man or the other or both; no one knew what.

Or rather, those of us who had watched Mahathir slowly eviscerate every political enemy he’d ever faced, leaving them ground in the dust, knew. And I think – as did everyone still living who contributed to the I Files – that Anwar did, too. In those last two weeks of August, Anwar slowly realised that the Americans and the Brits and the Turks and the Saudis had nothing left to offer him. He realised that there was virtually nothing left for which to fight.

For the first time, the Faceless Man stood alone.

When September began, the world seemed to come unstuck, and Malaysian politics would never be the same again. But that is a story for next time.