Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won a key victory in his sodomy trial Tuesday, with a court ruling that crucial DNA evidence linking him to semen found on his accuser was illegally obtained.
The ruling could severely hamper the prosecution's efforts to prove that Anwar had sex with his 25-year-old former aide. Anwar faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of sodomy, a crime in this Muslim-majority country.
Anwar has maintained the charge is part of a government plot to discredit him, but authorities deny any conspiracy. He has refused to provide his DNA samples, saying he fears investigators would tamper with the evidence.
Government lawyers sought to submit a toothbrush, towel and water bottle that Anwar used during police detention as evidence in the trial. A chemist testified that DNA found on those items matched that of a semen sample found on Anwar's accuser.
The High Court ruled Tuesday that authorities had illegally obtained the items when they arrested Anwar in July 2008. Anwar had left them in a police cell and was not informed that they could be used against him.
The prosecution's case now hinges mainly on testimony by the aide that Anwar pressured him into having sex at a Kuala Lumpur condominium in June 2008, said Anwar's lawyer, Sankara Nair.
"I am pleased with this decision," Anwar told The Associated Press. "This (was) the use of trickery and deception."
Prosecutor Yusof Zainal Abiden said the decision was "unexpected," but indicated he believed there was still a case against Anwar.
"DNA is merely corroborative evidence," Yusof told the AP. "People have been convicted without any such evidence."
Anwar, a married 63-year-old with six children, was once deputy prime minister, but he lost his post in 1998 on charges of sodomizing his family's former driver and trying to cover up his actions. He was released from prison in 2004 when a court overturned the sodomy conviction. He then led an opposition coalition to major gains in March 2008 general elections.
Tuesday's court ruling came as Anwar's ex-boss, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, released a high-profile memoir containing new accusations of sexual misconduct against Anwar. Mahathir wrote in his book that he met two girls who claimed in 1998 that Anwar had arranged to have sex with them.
Mahathir said that during talks with ruling party leaders, Anwar acknowledged having affairs but "declared that he had done nothing unusual." Mahathir, who retired in 2003 after 22 years in power, added that he fired Anwar because "his actions and hypocrisy in masquerading as a highly religious individual were unacceptable."
Anwar dismissed Mahathir's writing as "a blatant lie," saying it showed "his very vicious personal bitterness."
Associated Press writer Sean Yoong contributed to this report.