Bringing Najib to Malaysia’s Witness Stand

It is becoming increasingly likely that Malaysian Deputy Premier Najib Tun Razak is never going to have to face hostile questioning in the murder case of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu. A motion to bring him to court was thrown out by the court when it resumed session on July 23 to hear the summary of both prosecution and defense after the prosecution wrapped up its case a month ago.

One of Najib’s closest friends and two of his personal bodyguards have been standing trial for more than a year for the October 2006 murder of the 28-year-old woman, with crucial evidence being ignored time after time by both defense and prosecution. How is it that both– traditional protagonists in a criminal trial – strangely stood on the same front to block the emergence of this new evidence, which could potentially alter the entire configuration of this murder case?

In rejecting the application by the lawyer representing Altantuya’s family and the Mongolian government – Karpal Singh – to re-open the prosecution case to hear this new evidence, the presiding judge Mohd Zaki Yasin said that “the court will only exercise its discretional right to call for any witness when the need arises”.

But the court is already on the brink of deciding whether there is prima facie case, so if this is not the right time to hear this vital piece of new evidence, then what is? After the accused are discharged for lack of prima facie evidence?

The latter scenario is not entirely far-fetched, considering that the only hard evidence – the confession of the second accused – had already been thrown out by the court at the early stage of the trial and the court has been drifting directionlessly for 14 months without a compelling motive and without revealing the authority that prompted the first two accused (who were Najib’s bodyguards) to commit their act.

This is where the new evidence – a statutory declaration by private investigator P. Balasubramaniam revealing astounding intimate details – is considered to have come in at the nick of time to prevent a major miscarriage of justice by casting an important new light on the case.

In fact, it was this desire to see justice done that prompted Bala to present his affidavit at this juncture. Bala was alarmed that the court was about to hear the summary, and yet vital information he had furnished earlier to the police implicating Najib had not surfaced in court. This might therefore result in the court dismissing the case without calling for the defense, thereby exempting the first two accused from swearing on oath to reveal who ordered them to do what.

Through his affidavit, Bala has brought in a new player – Najib. Allegedly, Najib was the original lover of Altantuya, who was reportedly passed on to best friend Abdul Razak Baginda (the third accused) when Najib wanted to keep a distance from Altantuya upon becoming the deputy premier. Then in October 2006, Altantuya arrived in Malaysia to press Razak for the payment of US$500,000 as alleged commission for services rendered in the submarine deal in Paris. Bala was engaged to fend off Altantuya.

When Altantuya’s harassment got out of hand, Najib’s aide-camp Musa Safri sent the second accused to meet Razak for the first and only time one day before the murder to overcome Altantuya’s harassment. The rest is history.

It is important to note that Bala was engaged to protect Razak and his family from Altantuya’s harassment on an around-the-clock basis for periods preceding and after the disappearance of Altantuya, during which periods Bala was privy to many intimate details as well as witness to many occurrences surrounding the main players. His affidavit was a conscientious account of what he saw and heard over events that actually transpired. It is hence totally unjustified for the court to reject Bala’s affidavit on the ground that it was “hearsay.” In fact, Bala’s affidavit contained many important direct evidences, such as:

  • Altantuya’s demand for her alleged commission of US$500,000 at the Brickfields police station on 14 Oct 2006.

  • On the night of murder on 19 Oct 2006, Bala witnessed the first two accused and lance corporal Rohaniza taking Altantuya away in a red Proton Aeroback in front of Razak’s house.

  • On the day of Razak’s arrest, Bala was with Razak in the office of Razak’s lawyer at 6:30 am. Razak said he sent Najib an SMS the night before as he refused to believe he was to be arrested, but he did not receive a reply. Then at 7:30 am, Razak received an SMS from Najib and showed the message to Bala and the lawyer. The message read: “I am seeing IGP at 11 am today ……matter will be resolved…..be cool”.

  • During his seven-day detention (after the arrest of Razak), Bala told the police all he knew including everything Razak and Altantuya told him about their relationship with Najib, but when he came to sign the statement, all parts relating to Najib had been obliterated.

It will be seen that Bala’s affidavit contains evidences of perversion of justice as well as valuable missing links which should let the truth emerge in an otherwise muddled case.

The government’s response to this affidavit has been most disappointing. It not only failed to set up an independent panel to probe the contents therein as required in any country with rule of law, but not even the police or the prosecutors have shown any seriousness to investigate these alarming revelations. And now the latest, a flat rejection by the court to entertain Karpal’s motion through concerted objection by all participating legal officers who have sworn to uphold the law – prosecutors, defence lawyers and the judge.

That makes us wonder: Is the primary objective of the court to seek truth and serve justice or is it to protect criminals who happen to be persons of power and influence? If it is the former, shouldn’t the court have at least postponed the hearing of the summary pending investigations of the affidavit, however slow the investigations may be?

Or the court could, for instance, also call the father of Abdul Razak Baginda, who asked his son in court several months ago to “tell the truth,” only to be greeted by a near-hysterical outburst from Abdul Razak. What truth did Abdul Razak’s father seek?

By bulldozing the case forward with complete disregard to alarming signals that justice might have been transgressed in such an internationally inflammatory case is to expose Malaysia to new depth of international disrepute of our already wretched justice system.

And for the family of the victim who was slain in the cruelest fashion, and then blown up with plastic explosive, what can they do other than to continue to weep in silence?

Kim Quek regularly comments on Malaysian politics and other affairs