A spectacular sworn confession by a convicted elite police commando that former Prime Minister Najib Razak ordered him to murder a beautiful 28-year-old Mongolian woman to shut her up about a massive scandal involving the purchase of French submarines seems to have had little effect so far on Malaysian politics.
Najib (shown above in a picture taken from his Facebook page) denounced the December 16 sworn affidavit by former police chief inspector Azilah Hadri, who is now in prison and awaiting hanging, as a “complete fabrication by a desperate person seeking to avoid the gallows.” Then he promptly took to a mosque to proclaim his innocence via a sumpah laknat, a sacred oath daring a curse if he was lying, at which cynics smirked. He swore on the Quran years ago despite considerable contrary evidence that he had never met Altantuya Shaariibuu, the Mongolian party girl and translator who was murdered in 2006 by Azilah and his police comrade, Sirul Azhar Umar. She has been linked to him by sworn testimony and by documents in possession of the French government.
Cherchez le Doc
The widespread consensus in Malaysia, rightly or wrongly, is that the 94-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad engineered the production of Azilah’s affidavit to put Najib out of business as leader of the resurging United Malays National Organization, which was drubbed by the opposition in the May 2018 general election. With Najib leading the Barisan Nasional coalition, UMNO has made common cause with the rural fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, and pulled off a string of by-election victories that have demonstrated the weakness, if not outright incompetence of the Pakatan Harapan coalition that took power after the general election.
Many expect the Pakatan Harapan coalition, riven by infighting between Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir, to come apart. Mahathir, who ruled the country as head of UMNO and the coalition for 22 years from 1981 to 2003, then retired to eventually become Najib’s biggest critic, has solidified his rule after coming back to power as head of the Pakatan coalition in the wake of the election.
“Authorities should have no difficulty to nail [Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, for the murder] if they wanted to,” said a Kuala Lumpur-based analyst with ties to Anwar Ibrahim. “Mahathir hitherto avoided doing so perhaps because he, too, was involved in the Scorpene submarine corruption, as the deal was sealed when he was the PM and Najib the defense minister. The present Azilah move is, in my view, a Mahathir maneuver to remove Najib’s influence to facilitate his takeover of UMNO, in part or in whole, or to strengthen his hand as the unchallenged autocrat of Harapan. He could then forget about Anwar and continue his rule as he wishes, directly or through a proxy.”
Marathon Trial Ends in Guilty Verdict
Azilah and Sirul were convicted of the murder in April of 2009 after a marathon trial that extended over two years in which the defense, the prosecution and the judge sought to make sure that nobody other than the two of them were identified or charged. The case was rife with omissions. Sirul, in a statutory declaration, which can be found here, admitted to killing the woman and said he and Azilah had been offered RM50,000 to RM100,000 to kill her. But Sirul’s confession was never admitted in court despite its seeming legality. Neither the prosecutors, the defense nor the judge asked who had offered the payment to the two men. Azilah has been mouldering on death row since the conviction. Sirul is in a detention facility in Australia after having fled there during a short period when he was freed on appeal.
“The sworn affidavit of a convicted murderer out to save himself can’t have any credibility. Further, how do you reopen a case which has gone on for 13 years and concluded at all levels of the courts?” asked a Kuala Lumpur-based political analyst. “You can reopen the case if there’s any evidence. But it's Najib’s word against Azilah – 13 years later. Both are criminals, except that Najib has not been convicted yet.”
However, with everything else happening, “is this government going to spend another 13 years trying to find out what happened to Altantuya?” asked the political analyst. “I seriously doubt it. Unfortunately, like Jamal Khashoggi [the Saudi journalist murdered in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Ankara last year], Altantuya’s murder, I think, is not likely to be resolved. Sad to say, but it’s not important enough.”
One Malaysian who hasn't given up is attorney Americk Sidhu, who is attempting to connect the dots via a long-running series of articles currently being published by the popular news site Malaysiakini, in which he links the obvious facts, intending to relate them to the revelations made by Azilah in his statutory declaration. The series, minutely analyzing the scandal behind the trial, is expected to run as many as 15 parts.
Pakatan Survival an Issue
The big concern is that “2020 is the year which will decide whether Pakatan will break-up or not,” a source said. “On December 31, it was exactly 600 days since they came to power. What has been achieved? Bollocks. Nothing. And as Anwar worries whether he will become prime minister or go to jail again, there will be agitation and Pakatan Harapan might just break up. I won’t be surprised if it happens in the next six months.”
There is growing concern over corruption within the Pakatan Harapan coalition, given that the coalition came to power promising to clean up the government. Not only has nothing happened, beyond attempts to put Najib in jail over the much bigger scandal involving the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. Investment firm, which collapsed with US$4.8 billion missing, Pakatan officials themselves have come under suspicion.
Mohammad Azmin Ali, the minister for economic affairs and a Mahathir favorite (and Anwar rival), hosted a huge three-day wedding for his daughter at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, the second in his family this year.
“Some of my friends – billionaires and multi-millionaires – were shocked at how luxurious it was,” said a Malaysian businessman. “Questions being whispered among these circles is why has no one questioned the costs incurred by Azmin like the noise they made when Najib’s daughter got married to the Kazakh guy. Of course, Najib and Rosmah are estimated to have spent about 10 million ringgit on their daughter’s wedding; but estimates of Azmin’s daughter’s wedding also run into a few millions. One top government guy told me he estimated the flowers alone would have been between RM300,000 and RM500,000. Where does a government minister get that kind of money? And the anti-corruption chief Latheefa Koya – Azmin’s acolyte from Parti Keadilan Rakyat – hasn’t raised a squeak.”
Anwar and his wife were not invited although there were many from UMNO, including Hishamuddin Hussein, the former Barisan defense minister and an UMNO stalwart, who were at the function, the source said.
Education Minister Cashiered
In addition, on the first government working day of the new year, education minister Maszlee Malik, the government’s most controversial cabinet member, was forced to resign by Mahathir. Maszlee since taking the position 20 months ago made a series of controversial decisions including taking up the position of president of the state-backed International Islamic University of Malaysia himself against a pre-election pledge of making no political appointments.
Maszlee allowed four public universities to organize the much-criticized Malay Dignity Congress, introducing jawi into the primary school curriculum, and appointing Islamists rather than educationalists to top positions.
Asia Sentinel last month reported that Maszlee had been stalling a number of ministry tenders, trying to maneuver them towards favored parties, which through his networking was able to keep out of the local press. Ironically, it was probably a question over Islamic firebrand Zakir Naik in the UNIMAP exam paper, a product of the ‘inbred’ public university system he presided over that was the trigger to bring him down. India has been seeking Zakir's extradition for months on charges of terrorism and money-laundering. Mahathir has refused a request from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send Zakir back.
Maszlee may be the first of a line of ministers to whom Mahathir may give the chop in an attempt to form a more competent and popular cabinet.