Malaysian Murder Gets Stickier for Ruling Party

Questions over the spectacular murder of Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaaribuu came closer to the very top of Malaysian politics Wednesday when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim asked publicly who had ordered two police officers in Malaysia’s elite Special Operations Force to pick her up from the home of political advisor Abdul Razak Baginda.

Abdul Razak was later charged with the woman’s murder along with the two policemen.

Abdul Razak has close ties to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who supervises the Special Operations Force, known by its Malay initials UTK. Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, 30, and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, 35, are the charged in connection with the case. Police investigators have denied that anybody was involved in the October 20 murder besides those who have already been arrested and charged.

That leaves the question of how two elite police officers became involved with a political analyst with no apparent government authority. The top leadership of the United Malays National Organisation, the dominant political party in Malaysia’s ruling national coalition, have been tiptoeing gingerly around the case ever since Abdul Razak Baginda was arrested in November.

The head of a think tank closely tied to UMNO’s top leadership, Abdul Razak was initially freed on bail in November after posting a highly unusual 1 million ringgit bond and pleading not guilty to abetting the gruesome murder of the woman, whose baby he allegedly fathered and whose body was found in a patch of jungle near the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Shah Alam after she had reportedly been shot twice and torn apart with hand grenades available only to Malaysia’s security forces.

Anwar, a one-time deputy prime minister under then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, was imprisoned in 1998 on spurious charges of corruption and sexual abuse after breaking politically with Mahathir. He was freed from prison by Mahathir’s successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and is seeking to resurrect his political career

He asked why Najib has not been questioned about his connections to Abdul Razak and the two arrested policemen who worked for him.

“In my personal experience,” Anwar told a press conference at his home, “the UTK are there to protect the deputy prime minister and they work under our instructions. He (Najib) should at least be asked how is it a person assigned to you, to protect you and work under your instructions, can (allegedly) commit such a heinous crime.”

Anwar told reporters that anyone deemed to have known the victim or have other links with the murder should be questioned.

"It is vital that whilst those who pulled the trigger are brought to justice, all those who are responsible for directing the killing must be made known," he said in a statement read out at a news conference at his house. “In fact, such persons bear greater responsibility for the crime," he said.

A federal police spokesman told Reuters he had no immediate comment on Anwar's remarks. A government source said no one else has been questioned apart from the three accused. In fact government prosecutors have ruled out the possibility that anybody else is involved in the case other than Razak and the two policemen.

"Investigations reveal no one else's involvement in this case. Those responsible are in court today," deputy public prosecutor Salehuddin Saidin told the court during a pretrial motion last month.

Certainly, bail in a capital case is highly unusual. The two policemen were not allowed bail, adding to public irritation in Malaysia that it was Abdul Razak's political ties that got him freed.

The political analyst was ultimately jailed again after his bail extension was rejected by the High Court last Friday after his counsel, Wong Kian Kheong, failed to file a formal application. Applying again, Abdul Razak argued that he is in ill health and that he is not a flight risk.

"It's an absolute injustice," a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer told Asia Sentinel in November. "This is a non-bailable offence."

To Abdul Razak's plea that he was suffering from ill health, the lawyer replied: "Prisons have hospital facilities even if Razak is sick and in fact his sickness is not life-threatening and does not warrant bail. It is only asthma."

According to Section 388(1) of Malaysia's penal code, the lawyer quoted: "When any person accused of any non-bailable offence is accused or detained without warrant by a police officer or appears or is brought before the court he may be released by the officer in charge of the police district or by the court, but he shall not be so released if there appear reasonable grounds for believing that he has been guilty of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for

Shaaribuu was first identified in the press as a part-time freelance model but later reports from Mongolia claim she was a translator fluent in several languages.

She arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Mongolia on Oct. 6, reportedly intent on getting Abdul Razak to acknowledge his role as the father of her baby, according to press accounts, and asking for money. Accompanied by her sister and a cousin, Shaaribuu claimed that the baby was the product of a relationship she had with Abdul Razak when he visited Mongolia two years ago, telling others in Malaysia that the married political analyst, who has one daughter, was her husband.

A website that says it is seeking justice for the victim has claimed that she was only seeking money due her for translation services. The website also carries a letter addressed to the Malaysian government calling for justice in the case. It is signed by 46 Mongolian human rights organizations and NGOs.

Initially, Abdul Razak was held for questioning along with three Malaysian police personnel including a woman detective from the UTK, which is used to guard VIPs and other dignitaries. The woman officer was released after her two colleagues were charged.

According to news reports, Shaaribuu found out where Abdul Razak lived, but she never got to see him. Police say she received a phone call to meet him but according to news reports she was pushed into a car and driven away, never to be seen again.

When she did not return to her hotel, the sister and cousin lodged reports with the police, and eventually with the Mongolian honorary consul. Mongolian authorities expressed their concern directly to the government.

Ultimately, a task force of 40 police officers was assembled to put together the circumstances that led the woman to visit Abdul Razak’s house, and whether he had summoned the police officers to take her away.

Local news reports also indicated that police were investigating where the victim and Abdul Razak first met and whether they had had a sexual relationship.

One of the most accessible and quotable of local analysts, Abdul Razak's think tank, the Malaysian Strategic Research Institute, functioned as an international propaganda vehicle for both UMNO and the Malaysian armed forces.

Abdul Razak, 46, who became head of the institute when it was set up in 1993, is endowed with charm, a command of language and easy access to power due to his connections with Najib. A prolific writer, he penned a book in praise of the Malaysian Armed Forces, published by them, and numerous other works including “Malaysia and the Islamic World,” a collection of essays he edited with a forward by Najib.

“Whoever is involved will be brought to book regardless of his stature,” Musa told reporters before charges were laid. “I am also going to find out how and who authorized the issuance of the explosives used in the murder.” But despite Musa’s statements, Internet bloggers in Malaysia have been having a field day with the case.

One, for instance, asked these questions: “What duty was (the chief inspector) assigned to at the time, to whom he reports to and from whom he takes instructions still remain a mystery and may be a key part of the chain. Whether he acted on his own or under directives, still remains unanswered. While the sordid details and the reasons and motives will probably only surface if the case ever goes to court, there is a list of unanswered questions. The most important question of course is: Why should a posse of police officers abduct an unknown foreign national in daylight and in public? Were they acting on a previously filed police report or were they merely acting on instructions? If it was the latter, who gave the instructions and for what reasons?"

Abdul Razak’s lawyer, Shafee Abdullah, who is equally well-connected, earlier acknowledged that his client knew the victim, according to the Associated Press, but said he was certain he would be cleared.

“I am totally convinced of his innocence,” Shafee said after Abdul Razak was first remanded for questioning. “He is completely unimplicated."