KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia's prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim has been slapped with fresh allegations of homosexuality and alleged sexual misconduct by his former assistant, potentially the third formal sodomy charge against the 72-year-old leader since 1998.
Muhammad Yusoff Rawther, a former researcher working out of Anwar's private office, revealed on Wednesday that he made a statement under oath dated Nov. 19 alleging that the former deputy prime minister requested sexual favors and attempted to attack him in the latter's home in Kuala Lumpur.
The alleged sexual misconduct happened more than a year ago, raising flags over why Muhammad waited so long to report the incident, record his statement, then go public.
The accusation is regarded by some as a new twist in the power struggle between Anwar and Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali, a close aid to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Muslim-majority Malaysia criminalizes acts of homosexuality. Offenders can be imprisoned for up to 20 years and be whipped.
Anwar has categorically denied the allegations. Muhammad's relatives have publicly stated that the researcher, in his late 20s, is being used by "certain politicians against Anwar" as he inches closer to replacing Mahathir.
The timeline for the leadership change has not been revealed, although it is widely expected to take place by the middle of next year.
"I strongly deny this baseless slander," said Anwar on Thursday. "The act committed is a plot to hurt my image, in time for the 14th Keadilan National Congress and the planned leadership transition process in the country," he added. Anwar's aide has lodged a police report against Muhammad.
Anwar will chair the national congress of the People's Justice Party, or PKR in its Malay acronym, after recently replacing his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismai as party leader. She is currently the country's deputy prime minister while their daughter Nurul Izzah is a member of parliament.
Azmin is also deputy president of the PKR and is seen as the major challenger to Anwar in the fight to assume the premiership. He continues to gain traction with grassroots supporters in the PKR.
Azmin himself is embroiled in a sex scandal that emerged in June. The controversy erupted when sex videos involving two men were shared with journalists on WhatsApp. The caption alleges that one of the men in the video is Azmin.
Anwar has spent almost a decade in prison for two separate sodomy charges, both of which supporters claim were politically motivated. In 1998, Mahathir, who was then prime minister, sacked Anwar as his deputy for corruption and sodomy allegations, for which he was eventually imprisoned from April 1999 to 2004.
He was charged again in July 2008 for sodomizing his personal aide, convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in 2015.
Anwar and Mahathir decided to mend ties and join forces in a successful bid to topple then-Prime Minister Najib Razak in the 2018 elections, after which Mahathir promised to cede power to Anwar.
Soon after the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan coalition won the elections, Anwar received a full pardon by the Malaysian king and released from prison.