Cracks Open in Malaysia's Murder-Sub Scandal

A key figure involved in the cover-up of the spectacular 2006 murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu appears to have gone off the reservation, giving interviews to opposition media hinting at the involvement of Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, in the conspiracy.

Deepak Jaikishan, a Kuala Lumpur-based carpet dealer who reportedly was Mansor’s business partner in the past, allegedly promised RM5 million to get out of the country to a private detective who charged that Najib had been Altantuya’s former lover, after the detective filed a sworn declaration describing his knowledge of the affair between the two and giving excruciating details of sexual practices, among other specifics.

The detective, Perumal Balasubramaniam, was terrorized after being dragooned into a Kuala Lumpur police station and told his family was in danger. He immediately decamped for Chennai, India after being promised the money to recant his declaration. He has remained outside of Malaysia, issuing periodic statements giving additional details of the affairs as well as alleged attempts by Najib’s forces to cajole him into coming back and blame Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim for the whole thing.

Altantuya, named in French police documents as a translator, was murdered in October 2006 by two members of an elite police unit operating under Najib’s jurisdiction. The two were later convicted and sentenced to death for the crime. Abdul Razak Baginda, one of Najib’s closest associates and according to French prosecuting magistrates’ documents the alleged conduit for a €114 million bribe to the United Malays National Organization for the purchase of submarines from the French defense contractor DCN and its subsidiaries, was acquitted of the crime.

Razak Baginda had been Altantuya’s lover, supposedly after Najib had given her up, according to Balasubramaniam’s sworn declaration. Immediately on being cleared without having to put on a defense, Razak Baginda fled to the UK with his wife, where he has remained ever since.

Attempts to reach Jaikishan by Asia Sentinel have been unsuccessful. He first contacted Harakan Daily, the Malay-language newspaper operated by Parti Islam se-Malaysia, the Islamic opposition leg of the three-party Pakatan Rakyat headed by Anwar, and later gave an interview to Malaysiakini, the Kuala Lumpur-based independent online news website, describing additional details. Additional interviews have also been carried by the Malaysia Chronicle, another opposition website.

In the interviews, Jaikishan acknowledged that Najib and Rosmah had asked for his help in dealing with Balasubramaniam. In a translated interview, he told Harakan Daily that “Maybe my mistake was helping in the case of Bala, getting involved in Bala’s case to help the family of the prime minister. That was when I became famous. I don’t like it. I’d like to be low profile.”

In the Harakan interview, Jaikishan compared his involvement in Balasubramaniam’s case to rescuing a drowning friend. “So I jumped into the pool to help a friend,” he said. I felt at that time, I was the only one (they) sought for help.” He quickly responded: “Najib’s family” when asked whom he meant by ‘theirs.’

Jaikisan’s motives are unclear, sources in Kuala Lumpur told Asia Sentinel. One of the articles made a veiled reference to a belief that he hadn’t been given proper thanks for his efforts. One well-wired businessman in Kuala Lumpur said Jaikishan was known to have become close to Muhyiddin Yassin, the deputy prime minister and a putative rival for the premiership should Najib stumble.

“It’s an UMNO play”, the source said. “Deepak claims he is now very close to Muhyiddin. The timing of his solicited interviews – he called the news portals and offered himself – on the eve of the UMNO assembly suggests he wanted to embarrass Najib and Rosmah.”

Another lawyer close to the Mahathir wing of UMNO said that was nonsense, and that there was no trouble between the two. He pointed to the fact that the interviews had all been given to anti-government media as an indication that he was acting for Anwar’s coalition.

In any case, the repeated interviews, including one in which Jaikishan accused the head of the women’ wing of the party of having been involved in a massive land scam that benefited Najib and his family, are significantly damaging to the prime minister, who has been fighting rumors of involvement in the Altantuya affair for the entire six years since the 28-year-old woman was murdered and her body was blown up with C4 military explosives.

Yesterday in Singapore, Apoline Cagnat, a lawyer with the French human rights law firm headed by William Bourdon, said Najib and Abdul Razak Baginda are “priority witnesses” in the investigation into bribes and kickbacks totaling about €150 million in the sale of Scorpene submarines to the Malaysian Ministry of Defense -- the initial €114 million routed through Razak Baginda’s wholly-owned company Perimekar Sdn. Bhd and a second €39 million routed through a Hong Kong-based paper company called Terasasi HK Ltd. which had no known business affairs and which was wholly owned by Razak Baginda and his father .

It is highly unlikely, however, that the French authorities probing the scandal would be able to persuade the head of a sovereign state, especially one who is suspected of helping to facilitate the transfer of kickbacks to UMNO to testify. It is also difficult to imagine what they would be willing to add to the dialogue about the case if indeed they were called to testify.

However, both the French investigation and the Jaikishan comments spell continuing trouble for Najib on the domestic political front, and within his political party. The ruling national coalition has been seeking the appropriate time to hold national elections for more than a year but has continued to put them off for a variety of reasons including a long string of scandals over cost overruns on a big port modernization at Port Klang, west of Kuala Lumpur, as well as the so-called Cattlegate scandal in which the family of the minister for women’s affairs allegedly looted a cattle-slaughtering scheme of tens of millions of ringgit for their personal use.