Sirul Azhar Umar: $17 million blackmail from detainee in Sydney's Villawood detention centre
Sirul Azhar Umar: Villawood's Malaysian murderer
As reported in May 2015, Sirul Azhar Umar has been at the heart of one Malaysia's greatest political murder mysteries.
A convicted murderer in Sydney's Villawood detention centre appears to have made videos defending Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak around the time he was attempting to blackmail Mr Najib's government.
Australian Border Force has told Fairfax Media that Sirul Azhar Umar made the videos before he was arrested and taken to Villawood in January last year.
Piah Samat, mother, and Noriatin Umar, sister of convicted killer Sirul Azhar Umar, with Malaysian opposition politicians outside Villawood detention centre. Photo: James Brickwood
Just days before his arrest, Sirul attempted to blackmail the Malaysian government for $17 million to keep quiet over the brutal murder of a glamorous Mongolian socialite in Kuala Lumpur in 2006.
"Greetings boss, I am in difficulty here, I need $2 million to guarantee my child. After that I want $15 million and I will not return to Malaysia, I will not bring down the PM," Sirul texted to a shadowy Malaysian middleman with links to high-level Malaysian officials.
The middleman, who has visited Sirul three times in Villawood, sent a reply back saying "they want to discuss".
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak with US President Barack Obama at the ASEAN leaders' summit in California earlier this month. Photo: AP
Australian Federal Police have refused to comment on whether they are investigating the messages that were retrieved from Sirul's telephone during an investigation by al-Jazeera's 101 East program.
An AFP spokesperson said the Malaysian government would have to formally agree before any investigation could proceed.
But Mr Najib's office has repeatedly dismissed attempts to link him to the murder of 28-year-old Altantuya Shaariibuu as "entirely false smears motivated by political gain".
Mongolian fashion model and translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, 28, who was murdered in Malaysia in 2006 amid allegations of bribery, backmail, treachery and cover-up. Photo: Asia Sentinel
Three videos in which Sirul recants previous testimony and defends Mr Najib have been published recently by the Malaysiakini news website in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia's media assumed the videos were made in Villawood, where Sirul, a former bodyguard for Mr Najib, has applied for a protection visa to be allowed to live freely in Australia despite having been sentenced to hang in Malaysia for one of the most sensational crimes in the country's recent history.
But a spokesman for the Australian Border Force said "an analysis of the video messages indicates they were filmed before the detainee entered immigration detention".
Sirul Azhar Umar. Photo: Supplied
In the videos Sirul appears to refer to legal processes underway in Australia and a press conference held by his lawyers.
There were no legal processes underway before he was detained, which observers in Malaysia say indicates the videos were made after his arrest.
But Border Force officials who have investigated the videos insist the events Sirul was referring to must have taken place prior to his arrival in Villawood.
Sirul sent the text messages referring to $17 million on December 17, 2014, just four days before he was arrested in Queensland on the basis of an Interpol red notice alerting police around the world.
A Facebook posting by a user claiming to be Sirul's 19-year-old son Shuk Sz in January 2015 said: "In all honesty, I am the son of Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar. To those who don't know about this case, just don't say what you like. Watch your mouth. If I talk to the press, Malaysia will fall. The PM will also fall."
Sirul fled to Australia before a Malaysian court sentenced him to hang for shooting Ms Shaariibuu twice in the head as she begged for the life of her unborn baby, and then blowing her up with military-grade C-4 explosives, apparently to remove any evidence that could point to the father.
Allegations have simmered for years that Ms Shaariibuu was murdered to keep her quiet about purported kickbacks to high-level Malaysian officials over Malaysia's multibillion-dollar purchase of French/Spanish-made submarines when Mr Najib was defence minister.
Mr Najib insists he never met Ms Shaariibuu and never benefited from any kickbacks from the deal, which are the subject of investigations in France.
Before the videos were published, Sirul threatened to expose who ordered him to commit the murder.
"I was acting under orders," he told Fairfax Media in Villawood last year. "Those people who wanted to kill Ms Shaariibuu are still free.
"I want the chance to redeem my family's dignity … I am the scapegoat."
In the videos Sirul, wearing a white religious skullcap, portrays himself as a victim in the case despite admitting that he killed Ms Shaariibuu with another police commando who is seeking royal clemency after he was also sentenced to hang.
Sirul claimed Ms Shaariibuu was not pregnant when he killed her, contradicting an earlier statement he made.
"I understand that it is the intention of certain quarters with vested interests to topple a certain someone," Sirul said in one of the videos.
"I state here … in God's name … the most honourable Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak was never involved and had no links to the case."
Malaysian opposition MPs are demanding a police investigation into the videos, which were published as Mr Najib struggles to shrug off a financial scandal involving almost $1 billion that turned up in his private bank account in 2013. He denies any wrongdoing in that case as well.
Mr Najib, a close ally of successive governments in Australia, has cracked down on dissent and removed people he saw as disloyal to his long-ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), ignoring calls to resign.
Australia has said it will not agree to any request from Malaysia to extradite Sirul unless authorities in Kuala Lumpur guarantee he will not be executed.
In Villawood, Sirul lives comfortably in an area with access to a kitchen, a telephone and the internet and is allowed visitors who receive approval from the Border Force.
His Malaysian lawyers have links to the UMNO. During the past year Sirul has been visited by figures linked to both UMNO and Malaysia's opposition.