Malaysian Deputy Premier’s Wife Allegedly Linked to Murder

An influential Malaysian Web journalist alleges that Najib Tun Razak's wife was present when the Mongolian translator was murdered in 2006

malay-altantuyabIn an explosive statutory declaration to a Malaysian court, one of Malaysia’s most prominent web journalists has alleged that the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak as well as a Malaysian Army officer and the officer’s wife were directly involved in the murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu on October 19, 2006, and that people at the very top of the Malaysian government are aware of the fact.

The declaration is by Raja Petra Kamaruddin, a well-connected journalist who edits the web publication Malaysia Today and is on trial for sedition charges stemming from a commentary on the case. There is no independent confirmation of Raja Petra’s allegations, and the declaration was ignored by Malaysia’s government-linked mainstream media. One  Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer with connections to top United Malays National Organisation figures expressed doubt about it.

Nonetheless, the story adds considerable chaos to the country’s political mix. The Barisan Nasional, the national ruling coalition, is reeling from the loss of its two-thirds majority in March elections. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, taking the brunt of criticism over the loss, has already promised to step down at some future date to cede the premiership to Najib. District UMNO elections are due in July and there are suspicions that the verdict in the Altantuya murder trial is being delayed until the elections are completed.

Raja Petra wrote that Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, and Acting Colonel Aziz Buyong and his wife, Norhayati, Rosmah’s aide-de-camp, were present at the scene of the murder and that Aziz Buyong was the individual who placed C4 plastic explosive on Altantuya’s body and blew it up. Both Najib and his wife have repeatedly denied any involvement in the case although Kuala Lumpur has been buzzing for months with rumors of their complicity.

Shaariibuu was executed by two shots to the head and her body was blown up with military explosives in a patch of jungle near the suburban city of Shah Alam. One of Najib’s closest friends, Abdul Razak Baginda, once the influential head of a political think-tank, and two of Najib’s bodyguards, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar of the elite Unit Tindak Khas or Special Police Action Unit, are the subjects of a marathon murder trial that got underway more than a year ago.

Neither Najib nor his chief of staff, Musa Safri, has been questioned nor summoned to testify despite the fact that Baginda, in a sworn statement in November 2006, said he had contacted Musa for help in dealing with Altantuya, his jilted lover who was demanding money. That statement raised suspicions that all sides in the court – prosecution, defense and judiciary – are struggling to keep the case under wraps. The trial has been subject to numerous delays for reasons that are unclear while Altatuya's bones remain conspicuously displayed in urns in the courtroom.

Raja Petra himself is due to go on trial in October on sedition charges that were filed against him for writing an article titled “Let’s Send Altantuya’s Murderers to Hell.” In that piece, he accused Najib, his wife and others of complicity in the murder. He amplified the statement considerably in his statutory declaration, made last Wednesday, in which he also said that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had seen a full report by military intelligence on the involvement of the deputy premier’s family. Badawi gave the intelligence report to his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, for safekeeping, according to Raja Petra’s statement.

Raja Petra, a member of the Selangor royal family, also wrote that one of the country’s sultans had been given a full report on the matter. He didn’t identify the sultan, but if his statements are true it means that at least one member of royalty may be able to back up his declaration, which was not made under oath.

From the time Altantuya’s body was discovered, the case has raised dark questions about the possible involvement of top government figures. Others also believe that the 28-year-old mother of two may have been involved in a much bigger controversy than a jilted relationship. She made several trips to Kuala Lumpur to attempt to confront Abdul Razak, at one point standing in front of his house and screaming “Razak, bastard, come out!” The last time she was seen alive was again in front of his house, when she was bundled into a car and taken away.

She had accompanied Razakto France when he was involved in negotiating the purchase of two Scorpene submarines and a used Agosta submarine produced by the French government through a French-Spanish joint venture, Armaris, for the Malaysian defense ministry, which was headed by Najib as minister. The submarines were bought through a Kuala Lumpur-based company, Perimekar Sdn Bhd, which at the time was owned by yet another company, Ombak Laut, which was wholly owned by Abdul Razak Baginda.

The €1 billion (RM4.5 billion) contract to buy the submarines was non-competitive and netted Perimekar €114 million. Although Najib has sworn an oath to Allah that he had never met the woman, he was in France at the same time Abdul Razak, one of his best friends, was there, dealing with matters over the submarine. A cousin of Altantuya’s testified at the trial that she had seen a picture of Najib together with the dead woman, but she was quickly hushed up by both defense and prosecution lawyers about the matter and the picture has not been produced.

Altantuya acknowledged in a letter discovered after her death that she had been attemptng to blackmail Abdul Razak, presumably to keep his family from finding out about their relationship. But in his statement to the police, Baginda said he had already informed his family of the relationship; he said she was pressuring him for US$500,000. Her father, Setev Shaariibuu, a psychology professor in Ulan Bataar, has said she was killed because she “knew too much,” although he has never elaborated on that statement.

Given the close relationship between the two men, and that Najib was reported as presenting jackets made available by Perimekar to the submarine crews training in France, and that Altantuya was traveling with Baginda, it is difficult to understand why the court has not pursued the issue of whether they met.

It is also difficult to understand, given published reports, plus the fact that the accused Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar were members of Najib’s own bodyguard unit, that neither Najib nor Musa has been questioned about how the bodyguards came to be accused of Altantuya’s murder.

There have been many other discrepancies as well. Prosecutorial setbacks over the course of the trial have endangered the case. Sirul’s purported confession has been thrown out. The prosecution has attempted to impeach one of the prosecution’s star witnesses, Rohaniza Roslan, a 28-year-old policewoman and Azilah’s girlfriend. Rohaniza said she had seen the victim bundled into a red Proton car and taken away. Later, in court, she said she had been “tortured and coaxed” by police interrogators into signing that statement; she then offered the court a version of events that differed considerably from her initial account.

“The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor cannot remain silent on the latest bombshell,” wrote Lim Kit Siang, leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party. “The credibility and legitimacy of the Abdullah premiership and government will suffer a mortal blow if Abdullah, Najib and Rosmah remain silent on Raja Petra’s bombshell allegations.”

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