Anwar rejects ex-banker's charges

``I strongly deny such unfounded, scurrilous and baseless allegations,'' Anwar said in a statement read by his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, outside the capital's High Court.

Anwar was responding to allegations by former Bank Negara Malaysia  assistant governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid, who said on Thursday that Anwar had kept ``master accounts'' worth more than three billion ringgit  while in office.

Anwar Ibrahim, and others accused of improprieties by an ex-central banker denied the accusations on Friday as the government launched an inquiry.

Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid, indicted last month for failing to declare assets, said in a statutory declaration that Anwar had used the money to fund his political campaign and settle debts of his allies.

The allegations, splashed on the front pages of Malaysian newspapers on Friday, came as speculation mounted that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad would soon call snap general elections.

A senior official of the Anti-Corruption Agency was quoted  as saying it had set up a special team to investigate Murad's allegations.

ALLEGATIONS CALLED INTO QUESTION

Mahathir said he was ``shocked'' to hear the allegation that Anwar had controlled three billion ringgit.

``I don't know how he could do it,'' Mahathir told reporters. ``Even if it was not three billion, there must be some, otherwise the person wouldn't say it.''

But Anwar said Murad had been forced into making the allegations and that the accusations were aimed at tarnishing Mahathir's political opponents.

``The method of forcing admissions in the way of the Hitler and Stalin regimes has become prominent in our country, and the latest is involving Datuk Murad Khalid,'' Anwar said in the statement read by his wife outside the court where he is standing trial on a sodomy charge.

Since his sacking as finance minister and deputy prime minister in September 1998, Anwar has accused Mahathir's government of plotting to ruin his career.

The prime minister has accused Anwar, who is serving a six-year jail sentence for corruption, of sexual misconduct and attempting to topple his government with the help of foreigners.

Anwar's jailing has galvanised Malaysia's disparate opposition parties to fight together in the upcoming elections, setting up what many expect to be Mahathir's toughest political battle since he won power in 1981.

Others mentioned in Murad's statement denounced the former central banker, and some threatened legal action.

Chandra Muzaffar, deputy president of the opposition Parti Keadilan Nasional run by Anwar's wife, said he planned to sue Murad for alleging he and the non-governmental organisation ALIRAN had received five million ringgit from Anwar.

ALIRAN president P. Ramakrishnan called the allegation against his organisation a ``damnable lie.''

ABIM, a national Moslem youth organisation closely linked to Anwar, said it was also considering legal action. Murad had accused ABIM of receiving five million ringgit from Anwar.

Malaysia's special envoy to the United Nations, Abdullah Ahmad, denied he had received five million ringgit through Anwar's connections to help settle a debt.