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.