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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

ALTANTUYA

with thanks to : ASIA SENTINEL 
                    www.AsiaSentinel.com


Malaysia's Long-running Murder Case

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Written by Our Correspondent   
WEDNESDAY, 20 APRIL 2011
ImageAlthough a press gadfly recants his charges against the prime minister's wife, questions remain

Although Raja Petra Kamarudin, the editor of the popular website Malaysia Today, has backed away from his controversial charge 2008 that Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, was present at the 2006 murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, substantial questions remain.

Raja Petra retracted the charge, which he made in a statutory declaration, in an interview with the Malaysian television station TV3 on Thursday, saying he had been fed erroneous information by Anwar Ibrahim and other individuals connected to the opposition leader. Najib and his wife both offered to sue Raja Petra over the charge when he printed it. He fled Malaysia ahead of the charge along with sedition charges. When Najib and Raja Petra both turned up in Australia at the same time a few weeks ago, that raised speculation that Raja Petra was in negotiations to return to Malaysia. Malaysia Today, once the most popular website in Malaysia, has suffered from his absence.

Any indication that Rosmah had been at the scene of the crime had long been discounted, particularly in the wake of a confession by Sirul Azhar Umar, that he and Azilah Hadri, both of whom were Najib's bodyguards, had acted alone in killing the woman. The charge that the premier's wife was present has muddled the case over the death of the attractive translator, the jilted girlfriend of Najib's best friend, Abdul Razak Baginda. Razak Baginda was charged along with the two bodyguards as a conspirator in her gruesome murder but was freed without having to put on a defense.

The 28-year-old pregnant woman was shot twice in the head and her body was blown up with military explosives in a patch of jungle outside the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Shah Alam. There are suspicions that the explosives were attached to her lower body in an effort to destroy DNA that might link her unborn baby to someone in Malaysia.

Sirul and Azilah were put on trial along with Razak Baginda and were convicted of her murder. They have filed appeals against their pending execution.

Najib told reporters he was thankful that the allegations had been renounced linking him and his wife to the crime. However, although Raja Petra's repudiation of his earlier article removes Rosmah from the crime scene, if anything the editor's statement has only reawakened other charges. There is still a mass of evidence that continues to cast suspicion on the complicity of highly-placed individuals in Altantuya's death, including text messages between Razak Baginda and Najib reassuring Razak Baginda not to worry when he was under suspicion, saying Najib would fix things.

Sirul's confession was never admitted into evidence at the long-running trial in a Shah Alam High Court despite the fact that the confession was a cautioned statement that could be used against him in a court of law and thus was presumably admissible.

In that confession, Sirul told police he and Azilah were to be paid between RM50,000 and RM100,000 (US$16,530-US$33,060) to kill the woman. Azilah, he said, told him that Musa Safri, Najib's chief of staff and aide-de-camp, in turn had told Azilah "about a friend …who had women problems," and that there was "a job to do."

That job consisted of killing Altantuya and two girlfriends who were accompanying the translator from Mongolia in an attempt to get US$500,000 from Razak Baginda, apparently for her role as translator in a spectacular scandal involving a US$1 billion purchase of submarines in which €117 million were to be kicked back to a company owned by Razak Baginda. Fortunately, when the two went to a hotel to kill the three women, according to the confession, they discovered closed-circuit television cameras in a hallway and decided against it. Later they abducted Altantuya from in front of Razak Baginda's house and stuffed her into a car, from which she was driven to the site where she was murdered.

However, neither Musa Safri nor Najib was ever called to court to explain who Musa was acting for or whether he ordered the woman's killing, or who was going to pay the two the money. After his release Razak Baginda immediately decamped for Oxford University and apparently hasn't set foot in Malaysia since. On Nov. 5, Malaysian prosecutors formally closed the book on the case involving Balasubrmaniam's statements without taking any action.

The trial, in fact, turned into a long series of blatant attempts to keep Najib's name out of it. S. Balasubramaniam, a private detective that Razak Baginda hired to keep Altantuya away from him, issued three affidavits and a video interview that named Najib, then deputy prime minister and defense minister, as having previously had an affair with Altantuya before passing the woman to Razak Baginda because he didn't want to be embarrassed by her when he became prime minister.

The affidavits also accused Rosmah and Najib's brother, Nazim, of offering to pay him as much as RM1 million to shut up and leave the country. He later displayed signed checks from a business partner of Rosmah's totaling hundreds of thousands of ringgit paid to him when he was in hiding in Chennai.

"What possible reason is there for the police and Malaysian Anti-corruption Commission to remain silent over these serious accusations, backed by factual details, against the Prime Minister and his family?" asked Kim Quek, aide to Anwar in a prepared statement. "If Najib and family is innocent, wouldn't these law enforcing bodies have sprung to action in the first instance to clear the PM and family of such a horrible stigma?"

As Asia Sentinel reported at the time, all records that Altantuya had ever entered the country along with her companions disappeared from the Immigration Ministry. When one of the two companions mentioned on the witness stand that she had seen a photograph of Najib, Altantuya and Razak Baginda together at a dinner, both prosecution and defense attorneys leapt to their feet to ask that the testimony be stricken from the record.

"The two convicted killers, who were bodyguards to Najib, and trained to execute orders rigidly without question, had no motive on their own to kill someone they had never met," Kim Quek wrote. "And since the third accused, who was accused of instigating the killing, was set free due to lack of evidence, then the remaining question must be: who ordered the killing? Is it conceivable that the bodyguards had killed without order and without motive? Isn't it logical to deduce that the mastermind and real culprit may still be lurking somewhere beyond the realm of the court?"

The submarine deal itself has since morphed into a component in a huge scandal in France in which the state-owned defense company DCNS has been accused to selling naval equipment to Taiwan and Pakistan in exchange for kickbacks to officials all the way to the top of the French government including former prime minister Edouard Balladur. Besides Altantuya, individuals have been murdered in Pakistan and Taiwan in connection with the weapons sales. The current French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, was Balladur's campaign finance manager during the period. He has angrily denied any charges of impropriety.