Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has opened questions on who was behind the Oct. 18, 2006 murder of the Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu by two bodyguards of then-Defense Minister Najib Tun Razak. The killing is arguably the most notorious murder in recent Malaysian history.
Another question that has to be asked, however, is why Mahathir didn’t ask who killed the Mongolian beauty eight years and six months ago. It is tempting to suspect that Mahathir, who asked the questions on his blog chedet.cc on April 2, knows the answer. In the wake of the killing, top political circles in Malaysia were throbbing with rumors, especially over the fact that Altantuya was pregnant and that her body may have been blown up with military explosives to destroy the DNA of the person who made her that way. Those rumors have long suggested that someone close to Najib had ordered her killed.
Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, then members of the elite Police Special Action Force, were convicted in April of 2009 of having dragged the then 28-year-old expectant mother out of a car in a patch of jungle near the suburban city of Shah Alam and shot her in the head twice as she begged for her life, then blew her apart.
It is also tempting to suspect that the 89-year-old Mahathir is asking questions now not out of concern for who killed her but because he has taken off the gloves out of frustration in his drive to rid the country of Najib as prime minister. It was Mahathir, three years after Altantuya’s death, who engineered the ouster of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and installed Najib in his place as the country’s leader.
Mahathir’s blog entry, which apparently was blocked by the amount of traffic it drew, delivered a long laundry list of questions over Najib’s stewardship besides the murder, including his involvement in the disastrous 1MDB state-backed development fund, whose so-far unmet liabilities are threatening the country’s entire financial system; the sources of funds that Najib’s stepson used to purchase enormously expensive properties in the United States; and the state purchase of a luxurious private jet for the use of the prime minister’s office.
Mahathir also cited sensational reports in the New York Times and the Times of London that were generated by the investigative website Sarawak Report detailing the Najib family wealth that the former premier said “are extremely embarrassing for the country."
Mahathir has been thwarted in his campaign, which began in public last August with his withdrawal of support for the premier. Muhyiddin Yassin, Mahathir’s 67-year-old ally, vice premier and UMNO VP, ended his subterranean campaign to bring down Najib a few weeks ago, defeated by Najib’s ability to direct a river of money to rank and file division chiefs to keep them loyal.
Altantuya was identified by French authorities as a translator in the waning days of the extended purchase of French Scorpene submarines by Najib when he was defense minister. The two are known to have visited Paris at the same time although Najib has sworn on the Quran that he had never met her. According to the French authorities, in documents obtained in 2012 by Asia Sentinel and printed in a series of prizewinning stories, Mahathir was fully aware of the transaction, which allegedly produced EUR114.9 million worth of kickbacks routed through a company wholly owned by Najib’s then-close friend, Abdul Razak Baginda – Altantuya’s lover – to the United Malays National Organization.
A beautiful young mother, Altantuya had joined the international jet set party circle, reportedly making her Malaysian connections at a diamond show in Singapore. A now-dead private detective, Perumal Balasubramaniam, added to the mysteries surrounding Altantuya’s relationships by submitting a sworn statement saying that both Razak Baginda, who had jilted her, and Najib had had affairs with the woman. Balasubramaniam was bundled out of the country, reportedly with the help of one of Najib’s brothers on orders of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, and with a wad of ringgit in his pockets.
As an indication of Mahathir’s own approval of the transaction, on June 25, 2012, Asia Sentinel quoted a French investigative document describing a diplomatic cable sent to Foreign Minister Alain Juppe that said: “The company chosen by the government for the submarine project is…Perimekar. This choice is the subject of an official notification from the Malaysian Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Defence… Note that this decision of the Ministry of Finance was taken while the Prime Minister [eds: Mahathir] himself held the post of Minister of Finance, after the departure of Tun Daim [Zainuddin].”
Sirul and Azilah were convicted of the killing in a lengthy trial that appeared designed mainly to construct ways not to ask who had hired the two to kill the woman – despite a sworn confession by Sirul that was never produced in court for reasons that remain unclear. The court’s first act was to clear Razak Baginda without having to answer a case. The former military security analyst almost immediately fled the country for the UK. He has since returned quietly.
Sirul’s confession noted that the two were to be paid RM50,000-100,000 for the job although no one was named. The two were subsequently acquitted by an appellate court that stated, rather oddly, that there was no reason to seek to find out a motive for the killing. Sirul left for Australia some time after the not guilty verdict.
Then, in January, the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest, reversed the acquittal. Sirul was arrested in Australia. He remains in detention today, having told the independent website Malaysiakini in a telephone interview that he had been “under orders” to commit the murder. Australia refuses to extradite him because Malaysia still has the death penalty.
Dr Mahathir said in his blog such an allegation ought to be investigated because Sirul had worked for Najib.
"This is a human life. It would be cruel if Sirul was subjected to the death penalty for carrying out instructions," he wrote.
After the Malaysiakini revelations, Najib called the allegation that Sirul had been under orders “utter rubbish.”