The Australian government will not extradite Corporal Sirul Azahar Umar, who was sentenced to hang by Malaysia’s highest court Monday for the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu in October of 2006, turning down a request from Malaysian police.
At that, Sirul is no civil rights refugee. In a n a sworn statement to police when he was originally arrested, Sirul said he and Chief Inspector Azilah Hadr had been offered RM50,000 to RM100,000 to kill the woman. But the mystery person who ordered the killing has never been identified despite eight years of court trials at three levels. In a significant departure from other cases, the faces of the two men have never been shown in photographs. Cynics suggested that if the two were sentenced to hang, the authorities might substitute unknown individuals in their place.
According to a statement to Australian media, a spokesman in the Attorney General’s office said, “Australia’s extradition legislation does not allow a person to be surrendered to another country for an offense punishable by death unless the country has given Australia an undertaking that the death penalty will not be carried out on the person.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he is personally opposed to the death penalty.
Beyond that, the attorney general’s office had no comment. Sirul, convicted along with Azilah, apparently fled to Australia sometime in August of 2013 after an appellate court freed the two on a technicality. Sirul’s lawyer said he hadn’t seen him since June 2013, but added he was in Australia and has no money to return. Azilah was in Federal Court Monday, showing no expression when he was sentenced to hang. He was taken into custody following the verdict. Asia Sentinel was given the Society of Publishers in Asia’s highest award for investigative reporting in 2012 for its series of stories on the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu and the massive corruption connected to her death with the purchase of Scorpene submarines by the Malaysian government from the French government-owned munitions make DCN. A package of the stories can be found here. “As a matter of longstanding practice the Australian government does not comment publicly on extradition matters, including whether it has received an extradition request, until the person is arrested or brought before a court pursuant to a request,” according to the attorney general’s statement.
The two, bodyguards from an elite police unit assigned to then-defense Minister Najib Tun Razak, were originally sentenced to death for the killing of the 28-year-old Altantuya in a trial court in 2009. The case is one of the most controversial in Malaysian history, bound up in high-level political intrigue involving now Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and one of his best friends, Abdul Razak Baginda.
Razak Baginda, who was married, and Altantuya toured Europe in his Ferrari before he jilted her. he affair peripherally involved allegations that €114 million in bribes were paid by the French munitions maker DCN and destined for the United Malays National Organization as the result of the purchase of US$1 billion worth of submarines. Abdul Razak was an agent on the deal. He was later charged and then allowed to go free without presenting a defense in the murder case.
According to his own sworn statement filed with police, Altantuya was Razak Baginda’s lover and had performed a minor role as a translator. She was said by a private detective to have been Najib’s lover before being passed to Razak Baginda. The future prime minister didn’t want to be entangled with a glamorous mistress as he rose to the top.
In court and in the investigation, every attempt was made to ensure that the names of top political figures would never be mentioned.
However, on Nov. 9, 2006, at Kuala Lumpur's Travers police station, Sirul, then 35, confessed to the murder. His confession, obtained by Asia Sentinel, was never admitted in court.
The confession, in chilling detail, said Sirul had been told by Azilah that “there was work to be done and just asked me to follow him." Sirul said that Musa Safri, Najib's chief of staff, "had told him about a friend …who had women problems."
Neither Najib nor Musa were ever questioned about who sent the two men first to the Hotel Malacca, where, according to the testimony, Azilah wanted Sirul to kill not only Altantuya but the two women who had accompanied her to Kuala Lumpur.
Sirul and Azilah went to the Malaya Hotel but decided not to kill the three women "because of the presence of CCTV (closed circuit television cameras)."
Ultimately, according to the confession, the two went to Razak Baginda's house where "there was a Chinese woman [Altantuya] who was causing a commotion."
The two, with the help of a Malay woman, presumably Lance Corporal Rohaniza Roslan, Azilah's former girlfriend, bundled Altantuya into a car and drove her to where Sirul's jeep waited.
"Along the journey, Azilah asked me to find a place to ‘shoot to kill' the Chinese woman." Eventually after she was driven to Sirul's house to pick up the military explosives that would be wrapped around her body after she was dead, she was then driven to the Punchak Alam forest reserve near the suburban city of Shah Alam.
"I saw Azilah outside the jeep carrying a bag containing an M5 weapon and silencer from the jeep that was located at the foot rest of the passenger seat and gave it to me ordering me to ‘shoot to kill' the Chinese woman who was inside the jeep."
They took her jewelry and other articles, Sirul said, and "I saw that she was in a state of fear and she pleaded not to kill her and said she was expecting." Nonetheless, Azilah wrestled her to the ground, apparently knocking her unconscious, and "I opened fire towards the left side of the woman's head. After the Chinese woman was shot, Azilah removed all her clothes and I took a black garbage bag and Azilah put all the Chinese woman's clothes into the bag."
Azilah, he said, "noticed movements in the Chinese woman's arm and ordered me to fire another shot but the gun did not fire. I then emptied the weapon and loaded the gun again and fired another shot at the same area which was the left side of the woman's head. I then took a black plastic garbage bag and with Azilah's help put the bag over the Chinese woman's head to prevent blood from spilling."
With Sirul holding her arms and Azilah holding her legs, they carried Altantuya into the woods. "Azilah then carried the bag containing the explosives and handed it to me. I took the explosives and attached them to the victim's head while Azilah attached the explosives on the victim's legs up to the abdomen." After attaching a wire to the explosives, they blew her up.
After returning to the Bukit Aman police station, "I had a bath and changed clothes and put the clothes that I wore during the incident together with the victim's clothes into a plastic bag. After that, I entered the jeep and drove the jeep to a rubbish container in the Bukit Aman area near a construction site. I threw some of the victim's belongings and the wire that was used to detonate the explosives together with the empty bag that contained the explosives into the container."
According to a note found after her death, the victim had come to Malaysia from Mongolia to “blackmail” US$500,000 from Abdul Razak. According to a sworn statement by the late private detective Perumal Balasubramaniam, Razak Baginda “inherited” the woman from Najib.
Substantial evidence connected Najib to the case, including text messages to Razak Baginda assuring him Najib would fix things. The two bodyguards were acquitted on a technicality in the appellate court in 2013. After he got off, Razak Baginda left Malaysia for an extended period although he has been seen in Kuala Lumpur.