Malaysia’s Politically Charged Murder Trial Resumes

The trial of three men accused of murdering a Mongolian woman who was a spurned lover resumed Monday after a three-week break. But few questions have been answered in the killing of translator Altantuya Shaariibuu despite the testimony of 23 witnesses over 33 days in a Kuala Lumpur suburban high court.

The three defendants are well-connected political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, who had been Altantuya’s lover; and two Special Action Squad police personnel, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, 31, and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, 36. The latter were the personal bodyguards of Najib Tun Razak, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, until they were arrested last November.

Azilah and Sirul are alleged to have killed the woman in a jungle clearing, then attempted to destroy her body with C4 plastic explosives in October 2006 at the behest of Abdul Razak, who had broken off his affair with Altantuya, who continued to demand as much as US$500,000 in support money for a child supposedly fathered by Abdul Razak, according to testimony in the trial.

Justice Mohd Zaki Md Yasin suspended the case in August to give lawyers on both sides time to handle other cases, raising suspicions that a delay in the case would cool off the red-hot publicity. Because of the murder’s connection to the Deputy Prime Minister the trial is seen by some as a test of judicial independence.

In Monday’s testimony, defendant Sirul Azhar told the court he thought he had been set up by the officer who interrogated him when he was made to pose with jewelry alleged to belong to Altantuya. Sirul Azhar’s allegation kicked off yet another delay in the trial while the court and the lawyers fought over the admissibility of the evidence.

Altantuya met Abdul Razak at a social function in Hong Kong and conducted an affair with the married head of the Malaysian Strategic Center in Kuala Lumpur over the next 18 months, during which time, according to testimony, he gave her thousands of dollars and showered her with gifts. She was hired repeatedly as an interpreter, reportedly to assist in the Malaysian government’s purchase of French submarines in which Abdul Razak played a crucial role. At the time, Najib was the defense minister. Critics, in particular opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, have accused the two of profiting from the submarine transaction.

Throughout the trial, both the defense and the prosecution have assiduously avoided mentioning Najib’s name despite the fact that one witness said she had seen a picture of Altantuya with the deputy prime minister at a dinner. The deputy prime minister has neither been questioned nor called as a witness, and his name is rarely mentioned in government-allied newspapers despite the fact that his personal bodyguards and one of his best friends have been implicated in the case. Also, according to testimony by one of Altantuya’s Mongolian friends, their entry records into Malaysia were erased in Malaysian government immigration computers after she was killed. No attempt has been recorded in court to discover who erased the names.

Human rights groups in Malaysia and abroad have demanded justice over the case. In Mongolia the case has been seen as a national insult. A newspaper editorial in the Mongolia Post in Ulan Bator asked:

“Why would the Malaysian Special Forces personnel currently charged want to murder the victim and then take such a drastic action in an attempt to destroy the evidence? Were they acting on their own volition or were they really carrying out instructions? Who authorized the use of the C4 explosives? Why did Abdul Razak Baginda need a Mongolian interpreter for the submarine deal in Europe? How can the records of entry on Altantuya and her companions have been erased? Surely their passports had been stamped with the date and place of entry when they first arrived in Kuala Lumpur? It is suspected that the killers of Altantuya were planning to do away with her companions as well so as not to leave any witnesses. Were there instructions from persons higher up to have these records deleted?”

Apparently frightened for her life, according to evidence presented at the trial, Altantuya left behind a letter in her hotel room shortly before she was killed saying she had been threatened with death and that Abdul Razak was a “rich person” who “got connection in government. He got connection in police.”

In the letter, which is reprinted verbatim below, the victim says she fears for her life and that men have been looking for her and that she is being followed. She says she is afraid to leave her hotel and that she has nowhere to turn. She admits to blackmailing Abdul Razak, but insists she is just trying to do right for herself. I am just “normal girl trying to meet my lover,” she writes. But after lying to her, she writes, the lover is trying to kill her or put her in jail.

“Maybe it’s my fault to blackmail him but I got my own problem because of his lies and come to just see him,” she concludes.

In the meantime, Altantuya’s family has filed a RM100 million civil suit against the Government of Malaysia as well as the three defendants in the murder trial.

Verbatim transcript of last letter of Altantuya Shaariibuu:

“To see your lover is nothing criminal right?

“Yes was in shoc I wrote some stupid letters to him where I said I kill myslef I want help. Yes I try to blackmail him. Maybe its my fault but noe I really understand he dosent lovers me anymore and I need to stop that I saked money from him to go back how he promised to me. He lied to me to help and ruin my life. I came to KL to see him to face to face and ask why acting like that. Maybe rich person and he got family doin this. But whne I come I did some thing stupid I write letter where I said I will kill myself and thing like that.

“But now he got letter of mine and trying to scare me or kill me. He hide some Indians guys and always follow me they staying outside of my hotel. At Hotel Malaya Jalan Hang Leiku and coming to my room knocking the door. What going on between Mr. Razak Baginda and me its I hope our problem right in life many times happend this kind of situation.

“But he trying now to scare me to put to jail. He got connection in government. He got connection in police and scaring me for 2 and half years I been his lover he promised so thats the why I came here. But now he got fake papers with my signature and dere not my passport number he trying to put me to jail. Of course his rich men he can do taht. But now life is in danger

“Im really scared to even go out. Because he have my letters and all proff if I die or cacth by police or go jail they can show that papers only reason I m here because he ruined my life with lies. But now he even trying to sent me awya with his friends and trying to scare me and kill me. Maybe I did wrong and balckmailed him but he trying to kill me. I want to go back saftely. Because of this mans I delay my ticket and now I m in trouble.

“I connected to embassy of Mongolia in Hong Kong its closes embassy to K.L told all story. I got friend here he help me but he said need to be careful because his rich man. Can everything do to me. Now he could easly kill me or put to jail ans says I did write letters I blackmaild him. So all proofness on my case can ask from embassy in Hong Kong or hotel where I stay. Its Hotel Malay one of the Indian man is Suraja, another one is Bala, they saying they proctect the boss but if they protect the boss if the do job why they follow me and knocking my door at 5am at morning and acting like friend.

“Why they asking me to pay money and asking to marry that Indian guy. They follow me from my hotel outside to any place I go. If they protect the boss why they saying to that they can kill me? That Indain guy told me Mr. Razak is rich man he knows many people here so can easyly put e to jail. They say Malaysia is diferent from Monolia and said they know people in police so can easy put me to jail. If in Malaysia law goes like that I cant complane.

“But true is I didnt nothing to him I m just normal girl trying to meet my lover who lied to me and promised manty things but now wnat to put me ti jail or kill. Maybe its my fault to blackmail him but I got my own problem because of his lies and come to just see him. If its criminal to see my lover if its criminal what I did ill understand. But please check everything by law. If I made mistakeI ll never do again.”