Fury, Scorn and Murder in a Malaysian Courtroom

If it is true that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then the devil himself would be relieved to have never met Altantuya Shaariibuu, the Mongolian beauty whose death is at the center of one of Malaysia’s most spectacular murder cases ever.

Abdul Razak Baginda, 47, a member of the country’s Malay elite, faces a possible death penalty over charges of planning the murder of the 28-year-old woman who had reportedly borne his child and of ordering two members of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak's bodyguard unit to carry it out. The two face a possible death sentence as well.

Fragments of Altantuya’s body were found in a patch of jungle near Shah Alam, south of Kuala Lumpur, on October 20 after she had been blown up with hand grenades. The case, which has been unfolding for a week in a packed Shah Alam courtroom, south of Kuala Lumpur, has transfixed much of the country because of widespread suspicion that Najib is somehow involved, although the deputy prime minister has not been questioned and is not a witness. Opposition leaders have demanded that his role, if any, be explored. Those demands have been ignored.

But beyond that, and the gruesome manner by which the woman met her death, court testimony has revealed the victim as a seething young woman who kept up a series of furious public demands that Abdul Razak do right by her.

Abdul Razak, who is married and has a young daughter, met Altantuya in 2004 and began a whirlwind affair that included trips to Europe, expensive gifts and cash payments. But Abdul Razak, formerly the head of a top think tank and a close associate of Najib's, reportedly tired of Altantuya in 2005, although he continued to give her money. The payments stopped in 2006, prompting the woman to travel to Malaysia in October to demand US$500,000 from him.

The case has been complicated by the presence of Altantuya’s father, Stev Shariibuu, a Mongolian academician, who has held numerous press conferences in Kuala Lumpur, repeatedly charging that his daughter was not a model, as she had been portrayed often in the press, but instead was an accomplished translator who had accompanied Abdul Razak on several business trips and that she was killed because she “knew too much” about deals involving Abdul Razak and Najib Razak, particularly one involving the purchase of submarines for the Malaysian government through a company in which Abdul Razak holds a significant interest.

That has been denied by Malaysian government officials. The elder Sharriibuu also told the court that he was kicked and punched in the stomach by Abdul Razak’s wife, Mazlina Makhzan, before court convened Friday. That charge was denied by Abdul Razak’s family, who have attended court wearing tee-shirts printed with slogans showing support for the defendant.

Hot and Bothered

Whatever the involvement, or lack of it, by other political figures, court testimony has pictured Altantuya as a woman carrying on a loud and angry public campaign against the lover who had jilted her.

At one point, Razak Baginda was so frightened of her that he hired a private detective, Permual Balasubramaniam, to keep her away from him and to protect his daughter, Rowena, as she went to and from school.

Although she had gone back to Mongolia after a previous fruitless visit, the court was told, Altantuya returned to Kuala Lumpur in October, accompanied by two friends determined to get money from her ex-lover. In early October she and two friends showed up at his office but left empty-handed, then returned three or four days later. After Oct. 13, Balasubramaniam began guarding Abdul Razak’s house.

In another sensational fillip to the case, Balasubraniam acknowledged that he had to fire his assistant for having an affair with one of the women who had accompanied Altantuya to Kuala Lumpur.

Despite Altantuya's barrage of complaints, Balasubramaniam agreed with Razak's laywer that there was no need for Razak to file a police report against her for several reasons, among them that Razak was leaving for Hong Kong on October 24 and his wife and daughter were going to London on October 25. On Oct. 17, however, Altantuya showed up at the home, screaming “Razak, bastard, you come out. I want to speak to you,” Balasubramaniam testified. She returned on Oct. 19, again demanding to see the political analyst. An obviously rattled Abdul Razak sent scores of telephone calls and text messages to Balasubramaniam that night, pleading for help.

Enter the Police

That was the evening, as Balasubramaniam was standing guard, when the two elite policemen, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Umar, showed up with a female officer who has never been identified but who is believed to be the bodyguard for Najib Razak’s wife.

“I told Altantuya that the police wanted to arrest her,” Balasubramaniam said. “She went voluntarily into the car and sat in the back seat.”

She was never seen alive again, although threatening text messages continued to arrive, apparently from a relative of Altantuya’s named Amy, which frightened Abdul Razak so badly that he brought Balasubramaniam back into the case.

“You sick xxxx, listen to me carefull…I’m gonna call his wife….already report to Mongolian consulate in Malay. U chicken shits are in big problem…I’ll do my best I promise,” the text message announced, according to the court record.

Balasubramaniam testified repeatedly that although Abdul Razak “smiled” when asked about Altantuya’s wherabouts after she had been driven away the night before, he had never expressed a wish to see her injured. Nor, he said, did Abdul Razak ever ask him to kill Altantuya.

When he learned that Altantuya was dead, the private investigator said, he called Abdul Razak to ask what had happened.

“He said he did not know,” Balasubramaniam testified. “He told me he would contact his friend, a senior police officer.”

The trial, which is expected to last for a month and hear from 30 to 40 witnesses, is to resume Monday.

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