Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted on Monday in a surprise end to a politically-charged sodomy trial he has called a government bid to cripple his opposition ahead of upcoming polls.
The ruling by judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah set off pandemonium in the Kuala Lumpur high court, with Anwar mobbed by his wife, daughters and opposition politicians in joyous scenes.
Thousands of Anwar supporters who gathered outside under heavy security erupted into cheers and raised their fists in the air as news of the verdict filtered out.
In his brief verdict announcement, Zabidin said he could not rely on controversial DNA evidence submitted by the prosecution.
"The court is always reluctant to convict on sexual offences without corroborative evidence. Therefore, the accused is acquitted and discharged," he said.
The verdict in the more than two-year trial defied the expectations of many political observers and even Anwar himself, who said the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak was intent on eliminating him as a political threat.
It was the second sodomy verdict in a dozen years for Anwar, a former deputy premier in the 1990s who was next in line to head the country's long-ruling government until a spectacular downfall.
The charismatic Anwar had been groomed to succeed former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad until a bitter row between them saw Anwar ousted in 1998, beaten and jailed on sodomy and graft charges widely seen as politically motivated.
Once the sodomy charge was overturned in 2004 and he was released, the affair threw Anwar into the opposition, which he led to unprecedented gains against his former ruling party in 2008 general elections.
But the new sodomy charges emerged shortly after those polls -- Anwar was accused of sodomising a former male aide -- sparking accusations they were concocted by the ruling United Malays National Organisation to stall the opposition revival.
Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia and punishable by 20 years in jail.