Testimony in a Malaysian courtroom links the deputy prime minister to
a lurid murder case
Months of conjecture in Malaysia about the relationship of Deputy
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to Altantuya Shaariibuu have been
heightened by testimony Friday of Altantuya’s cousin, Burmaa
Oyunchimeg, that she had seen a photo of Najib having dinner with the
Mongolian beauty and Abdul Razak Baginda, who is accused of arranging
for her murder.
Najib has repeatedly
denied any knowledge of Altantuya. A spokesman said Saturday that he
won’t answer any questions concerning her because he has never
met her. Nonetheless, opposition leaders Anwar Ibraham of Parti
Keadilan and Lim Guan Eng of the Democratic Action Party both pounced
on Burmaa’s testimony, demanding he explain the photo, which
the woman said she had seen but did not produce.
Although he has never
been questioned or asked to testify in the murder trial, Najib
appears to be linked to nearly everyone involved in the case –
the two policemen accused of murdering her, and political analyst
Abdul Razak, and now Altantuya herself.
The two policemen charged
with carrying out the killing are part of an elite force close to
Najib’s office. A third suspect, who may be a Najib family
bodyguard, has been left out of the case, while the slain woman’s
father has repeatedly said his daughter was privy to details of
official corruption .
Abdul Razak’s lover, the Russian-educated Altantuya, who
spoke Russian, Chinese, Japanese and English, was 28 years old when
she was killed on October 19 last year. Her body was abandoned in a
patch of jungle near the suburban town of Shah Alam and blown apart
with hand grenades, according to police. The prosecutor, Tun Abdul
Majib, said evidence would be introduced to show that the deceased's
cause of death was "probable blast-related injuries.”
Other reports said she had been shot twice in the head before being
Thursday, Burmaa Oyunchimeg read a hand-written letter in court that
is believed to have been Altantuya's final note, saying she was
afraid Abdul Razak was trying to kill her. Writing in broken
English, she said that Abdiul Razak "is powerfull
person, he have money, he have connection in police, in government.
He trying to scare me, trying to kill me."
At the time of
Altantuya's death, Abdul Razak was head of the Malaysian Strategic
Research Center and a close advisor to Najib. He was arrested as a
suspect in the murder, along with Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and
Constable Sirul Azhar Umar. The two have usually been
identified in local newspapers as members of an elite police unit,
the Bukit Aman Special Action Force, under the jurisdiction of the
Ministry of Internal Security, which is headed by the Prime Minister,
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
In fact, however, Azilah was head of Najib’s personal security
team. In an affidavit filed in December in his defense, Abdul Razak
said he had contacted Azilah through Musa Safri, Najib’s
aide-de-camp, to ask for help in dealing with Altantuya, who by that
time was demanding money to care for a baby she said Abdul Razak had
Another mysterious figure
in the case was a woman constable who was mentioned in earlier news
reports as “helping police in the investigation into the
murder.” She was named for the first time Friday as Lance
Corporal Rophaniza Roslan, 29, who said she was off duty the night of
Altantuya’s disappearance and was keeping Azila company at the
police headquarters in Bukit Aman when the call came in to go to
Abdul Razak’s home. News reports aid the woman helped to put
Altantuya into the red Proton Saga car that drove her away for the
The rumor mill has it that the policewoman is a bodyguard for Najib’s
wife, Rosmah Mansor. The private investigator hired by Razak, P.
Balasubramaniam, testified that that a man and a woman were with
Azilah when Azilah drove Altantuya away. However, he said he could
not recognize the two other individuals.
Najib has been asked at press conferences repeatedly about
allegations of his involvement in the crime, which also has been the
subject of vocal charges by Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime
Minister and current leader of the opposition reform party, Keadilan
Rakyat Malaysia (People’s Justice Party). Najib has just as
repeatedly denied any involvement.
Other questions have arisen over the politically touchy trial. The
case was brought forward by nearly a year, from an original date of
April 2008, leading to conjecture that authorities wanted to get it
out of the way before elections, which are expected to be called
sometime next year.
Also, the prosecution team was abruptly changed the night before the
trial was to begin, leading new prosecutors to plead for more time to
get their case together. Officials said the prosecution team was
changed because the original prosecutor was seen playing badminton
with the judge although critics have repeatedly said virtually every
lawyer in Kuala Lumpur plays badminton with virtually every judge.
In Malaysia, the trial is
regarded as yet another test of the country’s judicial system
and is being closely watched for signs of political influence.
(Reformers were jolted this week, meanwhile. when Eric Chia, a
longtime crony of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, was
freed on embezzlement charges.)
Abdul Razak, who is married and has a teenage daughter, acknowledged
in his affidavit that he had met Altantuya at a gala party in Hong
Kong in 2004 and began a whirlwind affair that included trips to
Europe, expensive gifts and cash payments of US$10,000 at a time. The
two became so close, according to testimony by Ang Chong Beng, a
private investigator hired by the dead woman, that Altantuya said she
had married Abdul Razak in Hong Kong.
But Abdul Razak reportedly tired of the slender, multi-lingual beauty
in 2005, although he continued to give her money. The payments
stopped in 2006, prompting the woman to travel to Malaysia at least
twice to demand US$500,000 from him. Ang, who began testifying
Monday, said he was hired by Altantuya last September to find out
whether Abdul Razak was still in the country.
Ang said Altantuya had told him, “If Razak does not pay her,
she would reveal everything (about her relationship with Razak) to
his wife, his daughter Rowena, TV3, reporters and to the rest of the
Altantuya visited Abdul Razak’s office several times in the
company of two Mongolian friends in an effort to force the political
analyst to pay up. Contradicting earlier testimony that Abdul Razak
had never mentioned harming Altantuya, one of the murdered woman’s
friends testified that they were repeatedly threatened with death.
Uuriintuya Gal-Ochir said neither she nor Altantuya lodged a police
report because they were afraid of Abdul Razak’s connections to
police officers. A private investigator hired by Abdul Razak,
P. Balasubramaniam and his assistant, K. Suras Kumar, harassed them
six or seven times after their arrival in Malaysia on Oct 8 last
year, the woman said.
Suras, she said, had threatened to throw her, Altantuya and another
friend, Namiraa Gerelma, out of a hotel room window. In previous
testimony, Balasubramaniam said Suras had had an affair with one of
the women and had been fired. Uuriintuya, however, said the three
were so frightened that they remained standing in their hotel room
when Suras was let in by Altantuya.
In another development, Uuriintuya testified that she remained in
Malaysia after the murder, although Namiraa returned home to
Mongolia. When Uuriintuya attempted to leave later, she said her
entry had been expunged from Malaysian immigration computers.
Uuriintuya testified that Namiraa returned home without a problem,
but when she tried to leave with Altantuya's father on Nov 24
more than a month after the murder there was no record of
their entering the country.
“Our entry was deleted in the immigration computer,” she
testified. The woman banged the witness stand and added: “There
is no record of me coming to Malaysia through Beijing. Why?”
Altantuya’s father, Stev Shariibuu, a Mongolian academician,
has held numerous press conferences in Kuala Lumpur, repeatedly
denying that his daughter was a part-time model, as she had been
portrayed in the press, but instead was an accomplished translator
who had accompanied Abdul Razak on several business trips. He claimed
to reporters that she was killed because she “knew too much”
about deals involving Abdul Razak, particularly one involving the
purchase of submarines for the Malaysian government through a company
in which Abdul Razak holds a significant interest. The 2002 purchase
is reported to have netted Abdul Razak a healthy commission from the
That has been denied by Malaysian government officials.
Court testimony over the two weeks has portrayed Altantuya as a
woman carrying on a loud and angry public campaign against the lover
who had jilted her. At one point, Balasubramaniam testified, Razak
Baginda was so frightened of her that he hired him to keep her away
and to protect his daughter as she went to and from school.
Balasubramaniam testified that Altantuya showed up at Abdul Razak’s
home, screaming “Razak, bastard! You come out. I want to speak
An obviously rattled Abdul Razak sent scores of telephone calls and
text messages to Balasubramaniam that night, pleading for help.
Shortly after that, according to testimony, the police officials
appeared and put Altantuya into the back of the car. She was never
seen alive again.
But was it a simple case
of jealous scorn? Najib might be able to shed some light on the
matter. But it seems the court has no stomach for calling him to the