Thursday, April 28, 2011

French probe ignites interest in Altantuya death row duo

When Najib Abdul Razak was Malaysia’s Defense Minister from 2000 to 2008, his grand plan to upgrade the nation’s armed forces included the purchase of three submarines from the French defense shipbuilder, DCN.

Little did he know at the time, that the spectre of Altantuya Shaariibuu, the Mongolian who served as translator for the Malaysian government, would surface like one of the faulty submarines which refused to submerge and still haunt him five years later.

Next month, the inquiry by Parisian prosecutors on behalf of the Malaysian human rights organization Suaram, will be confined to bribery allegations involving the Scorpene submarines and will not look into the 2006 murder of Altantuya.

Altantuya had served as a translator in Paris for the Malaysian government's US$1 billion purchase of three French submarines. The deal was brokered by a firm owned by Abdul Razak Baginda, who belonged to Najib’s inner circle and which netted Baginda a €114 million commission.

The 28-year-old Mongolian was also Razak Baginda's jilted lover, and in a letter found after her death, she admitted she was attempting to blackmail Razak Baginda for US$500,000.

Altantuya was shot in October 2006 and her body was blown up with military explosives by two bodyguards attached to Najib's office. When Altantuya kept pestering Baginda for money, at his home, Baginda asked Najib's chief of staff, Musa Safri, to help keep her away from him.

Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar who served as bodyguards in the elite police unit supervised by Najib, were sent to apprehend Altantuya.

The two men were aided by Lance Corporal Rohaniza Roslan, who was Azila's former girlfriend. They packed Altantuya into a red Proton Wira from whence she was never seen alive again.

The private detective hired by Baginda, an ex-policeman called P. Balasubramaniam aka Bala, was detailed to prevent Altantuya from harassing him. Bala swore in a detailed statutory declaration that Baginda told him Altantuya had been Najib’s lover initially but when he had designs on becoming Prime minister, Baginda took over as her lover to prevent Najib from further sexual scandals.

Bala also said that Baginda told him she liked anal sex. In the declaration, Bala said he had seen text messages from Najib after Altantuya’s disappearance advising Baginda to “be cool” and that the matter would soon be resolved.

After delivering his statutory declaration, Bala was forced to withdraw the document. After this, Bala and his entire family disappeared.

Meanwhile, Baginda was acquitted in November 2008 and left Malaysia for England.

However, High Court Judge Zaki Yasin said that the two bodyguards were “unbelievable” as “each blamed the other” and convicted the two of murdering Altantuya sometime between Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, 2006. Zaki said, “They failed to raise any reasonable doubt of the prosecution's case”.

The case is mired in controversy as there was no attempt to establish their motive for killing her despite a confession by one of them, which was not allowed in court, but which said they would be paid a large sum of money to get rid of her.

In Sirul's cautioned statement, he said that Azhar informed him that Najib's chief of staff, Musa Safri, had ordered them to pick up the young woman.

Azhar’s first suggestion was the Hotel Malaya, where Altantuya and her cousin and friend were staying, to kill them all. The presence of closed-circuit cameras prevented this from happening.

How deep and to what extent is Musa's involvement?

In addition, what is the relationship of these two men with Najib?

The press conference in London, in July 2010, held by Bala and his team of lawyers, was supposed to be a platform to discuss issues raised during a scheduled interview of Bala by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). When the MACC cancelled at the last minute, their non-appearance generated more questions than answers.

According to lawyer Manjeet Singh Dhillon, “What we intended to do if MACC had turned up in London, was for Balasubramaniam to highlight a whole series of events surrounding this Altantuya matter that pointed to the centre of a conspiracy web. A conspiracy at the very highest level to keep out all references to Najib.”

So next month, in Paris, the sordid details of Najib’s submarine deals will surface. Back in Malaysia, our attention will focus on the two bodyguards, charged with Altantuya’s murder.

Some say that the two are convenient scapegoats. Others say that it is curious their faces were hidden from the glare of journalists and say this is because the men will have an identity change and be free to rejoin society under an assumed name. Many questions remain unanswered.

In fact, we have no proof that they men are who they claim to be. No one knows them and has vouched for them. Who knows if they are masquerading as Azilah and Sirul? At the end of the day, it does not matter who the men really are.

It is all a smokescreen for in our part of the world, those in charge of dispensing justice end up protecting those in power. We expect criminals to be experts at keeping secrets and telling lies, but few expect those who are entrusted with keeping law and order, to lie. Governments of all types have a tendency to manipulate information and hide the truth.

Not convinced? Remember the Bank Bumiputra scandal in 1980 when a Bank Bumiputra official was murdered to prevent information about corrupt practices from being unearthed? Bank Bumiputra lost millions and had to be bailed out by taxpayers money. The country that prosecuted one of the accused was Hong Kong.

No, not Malaysia. We tend to shield the guilty. - Malaysia Chronicle

Written by Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysia Chronicle

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