Chess champ an unwitting pawn in smear claim

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am


A 21-year-old Hong Kong chess champion has unwittingly found herself at the centre of an ugly political smear campaign in Malaysia, after an online photo of her was used to implicate a politician's son in a sexual assault.

Born in the United States and educated at Kennedy and West Island schools, Anya Corke has never been to Penang, neither attended school in Malaysia nor met her alleged attacker, Marcus Lim Whai Khai, the 16-year-old son of Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng.

Corke, a philosophy and Russian literature major at Wellesley College in the US is best known as the four-time Hong Kong chess champion; she has been a woman chess grandmaster since 2004.

But last week her photo - pulled from a chess tournament in Austria, but with the board and pieces edited out - started appearing on blogs in Malaysia with remarks, saying she had been sexually assaulted. Alongside was a shot of Marcus with the label 'breast molester'. The bloggers were supporters of the United Malays National Organisation, the country's biggest political party representing ethnic Malays. The posts claimed Marcus sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl at the SMJK Heng He High School in Georgetown in Penang, used his father's name to get him off the hook from his teachers and paid 200,000 ringgit (HK$494,000) to the victim's parents to stop them from publicly speaking.

'I've never met or heard of anyone involved. I haven't been there for seven years and I'm just absolutely baffled as to how they even implicated me in the first place,' Corke said. 'A Malaysian friend of mine just texted me one morning and said that I was somehow part of a political conspiracy and I was completely surprised. It was out of the blue.'

Asked if she would take legal action against the politicians propagating the rumours, Anya's mother, Mei Sun, said: 'As Anya's parent, I will check on the options to protect her from this kind of nuisance.'

School principal Goh Boon Poh said the rumours were untrue and Marcus - a prefect - had already transferred to another school when the incident allegedly happened.

Lim Guan Eng released a statement on Tuesday condemning the mud-slinging as 'barbaric' and a systematic character assassination.

'For a young kid growing up, to be maligned in such a beastly and cruel fashion publicly is unacceptable and inhumane,' he said. 'If you want to finish me off, do your worst to me, but leave my innocent children alone.'

Lim, who is a member of the opposition Democratic Action Party, accused Umno politicians Novandri Hasan Basri and Khairy Jamaluddin of spreading the rumours through a blog and Twitter, respectively.

Even after Lim's statement, Jamaluddin - head of Umno's youth wing - remained unrepentant, tweeting to a DAP member: 'Bro, what BN [Barisan Nasional, the Umno-dominated National Front ruling coalition] leaders & their families get from the opposition is far worse.'