A Malaysian Private Eye Recants an Explosive Statement
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In a stunning turnaround that raises as many questions as it answers, the Kuala Lumpur-based private investigator who set off a firestorm Thursday by alleging that Deputy prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was involved in the 2006 murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu today retracted the entire contents of his statutory declaration and said he had made it under duress (Note: Both declarations can be found here).
Media in Kuala Lumpur reported that P. Balasubramaniam, a private investigator who once represented accused murderer Abdul Razak Baginda, said everything he had alleged in his July 1 statutory declaration was wrong, then rushed off without taking questions. Local media also reported that he had come under severe pressure after releasing the declaration in the company of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim Thursday.
The investigator did not say who pressured him to issue the initial statement, but his action raised the inevitable specter that powerful political forces are at work over the sensational murder. The allegations against Najib have already undermined his standing as the heir apparent to the leadership of the powerful United Malays National Organization. The prominent Internet journalist Raja Petra Kamaruddin in his own statutory declaration recently flatly stated that Najib's wife had been present at Altantuya's execution. Raja Petra now faces charges of sedition and is scheduled to go on trial in October.
Opposition leaders denounced the retraction as the result of political pressure and called for an investigation. To Balasubramaniam's assertion that he had been pressured into making the original statement, they pointed out that he was in the company of his own lawyer, Americk Singh Sidhu, when he made the statement public to reporters. The respected independent reform organization Aliran issued a statement questioning the reversal and said that an assistant superintendant of police had met with Balasubramaniam at the Brickfields police station in Kuala Lumpur the night after he made his first statement, and that his second was witnessed by a commissioner of oaths named Zainul Abidin Muhayat from an address of the law firm Zul Rafique and Partners, reportedly owned by the brother of Federal Territories Minister, Zulhasnan Rafique. The minister is a top UMNO wheelhorse.
The ongoing trial has thus far avoided questioning Najib or bringing his name into the proceedings, with both prosecutors and defense attorneys challenging attempts to have him brought into the proceedings. Given the assertions by Raja Petra and Balasubramaniam it seems almost inconceivable that the High Court hearing the case would not reopen it to attempt to get at the truth.
Anwar, who himself faces recent allegations of forcibly sodomizing a 23-year-old man who works in his office, was excoriated by pro-government loyalists from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition led by UMNO after he released the initial declaration. Najib and Anwar are bitter rivals for power who were once allied in UMNO before Anwar was booted out of the deputy prime minister’s job in 1998 and later jailed on sexual perversion charges. Building on opposition gains in the March elections, Anwar has declared his intention to unseat the BN by September.
Najib called the private investigator’s statement “a desperate move by Anwar Ibrahim to divert attention from the sodomy allegation he is facing.”
For some, the episode reveals rot inside the political system. “They are all damaged, it doesn’t matter, really,” said a disgusted lawyer and political insider in Kuala Lumpur. “I think new leaders will emerge after this mess.”
In the new declaration, a sworn statement made in writing as was his first, Balasubramaniam said: "I wish to retract the entire contents of my statutory declaration dated July 1, 2008. I was compelled to affirm the said statutory declaration under duress.
"I wish to expressly state that at no material time did (Abdul) Razak (Abdullah) Baginda inform me that he was introduced to Altantuya Shaariibuu by a VIP and at no material time did Razak Baginda inform me that Datuk Seri Najib (Tun Razak) had a sexual relationship with Altantuya Shaaribu and that she was susceptible to anal intercourse. At no material time did Razak Baginda inform me that Datuk Seri Najib instructed Razak Baginda to look after Altantuya Shaaribu as he did not want her to harass him since he was the Deputy Prime Minister."
Balasubramaniam’s previous statement was extraordinarily detailed, accusing the deputy prime minister of having had an affair with Altantuya and introducing her to Razak; he also recounted SMS conversations between Razak and Najib on the night of her murder. The statement described the cars that came to take the woman away, related conversations with the accused and described his disappointment at the fact that a detailed statement he had given police about the matter had been censored so completely that nothing of the relationship between Razak and Najib survived.
Razak went on trial in June 2007 for Altantuya’s murder along with 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. The 28-year-old Mongolian woman was shot twice in the head on October 19, 2006 and her body dumped in a patch of jungle near the suburban city of Shah Alam before she was blown up with explosives.
Balasubramaniam wrote in his first declaration that he wanted the “relevant authorities to reopen their investigations into this case immediately so that any fresh evidence may be presented to the Court prior to submissions at the end of the prosecution’s case.”
In that declaration Balasubramaniam, who was hired to help Razak deal with the woman, said he repeatedly tried to get Razak to have Altantuya arrested for harassment, but that he refused to do so.
The July 1 statement described in meticulous detail a series of visits by Altantuya and two friends from Mongolia to Razak’s office and home, seeking to corner the political analyst about their relationship and demanding US$500,000 for her services as a translator in a questionable transaction involving Malaysia’s purchase of French submarines.
The document also purported to confirm long-reported rumors that Najib, Razak and Altantuya had been at a dinner in Paris during the time when the submarine transaction was being negotiated. It described conversations with Altantuya, in which she told the private investigator that Razak had even bought her a house in Mongolia.
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