Explosive Altantuya Revelations Coming?

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand announced Saturday that Musa Hassan, who retired recently as Malaysia’s national police chief, would hold a Monday press conference in Bangkok with “new revelations” over the 2006 murder for hire of Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaariibuu.

“After her death it was revealed that she had been linked to the sale of two French-made submarines to Malaysia for US$1.3 billion - a deal under heavy suspicion of high-level corruption,” the FCCT announcement said. “The current Malaysian PM, Najib Razak, was then Minister of Defense and the national police chief was Musa Hassan. The revelations shook the Malaysian political landscape.”

It remains unsure if the announcement was a hoax. Attempts to reach Musa were unsuccessful. A Malaysiakini reporter said he has reached the former chief, but that Musa refused comment and said he hadn't heard of the press conference. There was at least one error in the announcement -- that Musa had quit as head of the police when he had actually retired with full honors. Although there have also been subsequent rumors that the press conference has been canceled, an FCCT officer told Asia Sentinel it appears to still be on, although it was moved from Oct. 19 to Monday.

The 60-year-old Musa retired on Sept. 13 after 41 years of service, the last six as national police chief. He was previously deputy inspector general. He has long been a controversial figure, having been investigated himself on allegations of corruption, particularly over the release of three members of illegal betting syndicates. Reform critics have accused him of using his police power to thwart investigations into corruption and to protect powerful figures in the government.

Officials with the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition said they had been caught off guard by the announcement that Musa would speak in Bangkok.

Local media reported earlier that Musa has been flirting with Parti Islam se-Malaysia, the fundamentalist Islamic component of the three-party opposition. Musa, however, has publicly denied he intended to join PAS. A source with Pakatan Rakyat told Asia Sentinel Musa had met with a top leader of PAS several months ago, but that the former police chief had no interest in politics and that it was unlikely he would join.

However, if anybody knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak, it would be Musa Hassan.

Six years ago, according to court testimony in a long-drawn-out Kuala Lumpur trial, bodyguards attached to the office of Najib, now the prime minister, dragged the translator and party girl out of a car into a patch of jungle near the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Shah Alam, As she begged for her life and apparently that of her unborn child, they knocked her unconscious, then shot her twice in the head.

Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, members of the elite Unit Tindakan Khas, then wrapped Altantuya’s body in C4 plastic explosives and blew her up, possibly to mangle her remains so badly that the fetus would be destroyed, according to a confession that Sirul made but which was never introduced in court despite its seeming validity.

In his cautioned statement, as confessions are called in Malaysia, the police corporal told authorities he and Azilah had been offered RM100,000 to kill the woman and her two companions, who were causing highly public embarrassment for Abdul Razak Baginda, Najib’s best friend. The 28-year-old Mongolian woman, in a letter found after her death, wrote that she was sorry she had been blackmailing Razak Baginda.

Ironically, if unknown persons hadn’t ordered Altantuya’s death, the story of the massive bribes for the purchase of the submarines would by this time probably have disappeared. Similar scandals with the same magnitude of questionable overpayments have since died down, one involving the purchases of Sukhoi jets and another involving the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars on a company owned by an United Malays National Organization crony to build patrol boats. However, continuing questions about her murder have kept the story alive.

As Asia Sentinel reported in June, French police records alleged that Razak Baginda was a central figure in a bribery case in which a total of nearly €150 million in payments were steered to two Razak Baginda companies, Perimekar Sdn Bhd and Terasasi Hong Kong Ltd from subsidiaries of DCN, the French defense giant, in connection with the purchase of the submarines by the Malaysian defense ministry. The records seized from DCN by the French police show that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe were aware of the transactions. Memos obtained by Asia Sentinel show the French expected at least part of the money to be steered to UMNO, Malaysia’s biggest ethnic political party.

Despite a 14-month trial, neither the prosecutors, the defense nor the judge asked who had offered the RM100,000 payment to the two men. Najib’s chief of staff, Musa Safri, reportedly dispatched the two policemen to pick up Altantuya and her companions, who mercifully weren’t around.

Altantuya appears to have been killed at the behest of someone with considerable clout in Kuala Lumpur. If her dying statement to Sirul Azhar is to be accepted, as he recounted it in his confession, she appeared to have been carrying the baby of someone, perhaps high in power in Malaysia.

Najib has sworn on the Quran that he never met Altantuya, although she appears to have been in France at the same time as he was, accompanying Najib’s best friend, Razak Baginda. On June 11, 2005, for instance, Najib gave a press conference after having visited the site where the Scorpene submariners were being trained and, according to the log of an Australian submariner association, presented jackets made available by Perimekar – Abdul Razak Baginda’s company – to the crew.

After the arrest of the two bodyguards, eventually Abdul Razak Baginda was acquitted without having to put on a defense. There were a long string of irregularities in the trial, which as much as anything appeared to be designed on the part of the judiciary, the prosecution and perhaps the defense to make sure nobody in Najib’s office was investigated or called as witnesses.

The two bodyguards were convicted and sentenced to death. Their appeals were supposed to have been heard in February this year, eight months ago. Mysteriously their appeals have been delayed. They were supposed to be heard in August. They have been delayed again.

Last week Musa dropped a 2008 defamation suit against Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim after Anwar accused him and Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail of conspiring to cover up a 1998 physical assault which left the then-imprisoned Anwar with a black eye and a permanent back problem. The dropping of the suit also fueled speculation that Musa was moving towards a rapprochement with the opposition. However, an opposition leader said the PR leadership was convinced he dropped the suit because he knew he wouldn’t be able to win it.