Malaysia’s Record of Unresolved Murders
Unsettled cases leave lingering questions over lack of justice
The conviction and sentencing last week of six individuals in a Malaysian court for the murder in 2015 of Deputy Public Prosecutor Kevin Morais bears a deeply disturbing resemblance to other murders over the past decade and more, and that is that the people who ordered the murders have never come to trial and it seems likely that they are protected in high places.
Morais, Mongolian party girl and translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, Arab-Malaysian Bank founder Hussain Najadi and political aide Teoh Beng Hock have two things in common. They were murdered or died under suspicious circumstances. In the case of Morais, Altantuya and Najadi, someone paid to have them killed. Teoh supposedly committed suicide. The other thing all four have in common is that Malaysia’s justice system seems to have worked hard to cover up the persons ultimately responsible for their deaths.
All of these deaths received widespread domestic and international scrutiny in the press and among good government organizations prior to the 2018 election that brought a putative reform government to power. It had been widely expected that the new government would pursue answers as to how and why they had died. But there have been no answers and today it looks like there will be none, and the likelihood that justice would be served is receding along with the coming to power of a new government that shows no inclination whatsoever to investigate them.
The 55-year-old Morais, it has been reported, was the secret whistleblower who provided devastating evidence of the corruption of former Prime Minister Najib Razak and others in the 1Malaysia Development scandal to Clare Rewcastle Brown, the English journalist who blew the 1MDB affair wide open. He disappeared on Sept. 4, 2015 after leaving his condominium in Kuala Lumpur on his way to work at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
A CCTV camera by chance caught Morais’s car being rammed on a Kuala Lumpur street and him being dragged from it. He was later found in an oil drum filled with cement in a river in Subang Jaya, a Kuala Lumpur suburb. His burned car, its serial numbers obliterated, was found in a palm oil plantation in Perak.
The police said it was an open and shut case. Morais had been killed by confederates of an army doctor in revenge for prosecuting a case against him. The doctor, R Kunaseegaran and his confederates; R. Dinishwaran; AK Thinesh Kumar, M. Vishwanath, S. Nimalan, 27; and S. Ravi Chandaran have been sentenced to hang although Malaysia implemented a moratorium on the death penalty in October 2018. The five have appealed the decision.
But it strains reason to believe that an army doctor would round up five confederates to kill the prosecutor for a case against him. It is much more reasonable to believe that Morais wound up in the oil barrel not only because he was either leading or co-leading the prosecution but that in addition he was somehow discovered to be one of the sources of the deeply detailed information on Najib’s finances that was being fed to Brown, the editor and writer of Sarawak Report.
Certainly, Mohamad Apandi Ali, then country’s chief law enforcement officer, lied about Morais’s activities, saying he had nothing to do with the 1MDB case amid rumors spreading that Morais had left the country with a homosexual lover. That story saying Apandi had lied earned a ban for Asia Sentinel in Malaysia from the communications ministry, which issued a notice saying “This website is not available in Malaysia because it violates the national laws.” Although that ban was rescinded when the Barisan Nasional government fell, it has permanently crippled Asia Sentinel’s readership in Malaysia.
Before Morais, there was the case of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old beauty who was found to have been murdered by two bodyguards of then-Defense Minister Najib Razak in 2006. The facts were laid out in minute detail by Kuala Lumpur lawyer Americk Sidhu in February of this year in a 19,000-word series of blogs that illustrated her killing, a relatively small part of an affair involving massive defense purchases, kickbacks, bribery, adultery, blackmail, multiple murders and political chicanery on the part of senior French and Malaysian officials that for tragedy and intrigue remains one of the country’s most macabre scandals.
The woman was shot twice in the head and her body was blown up with C4 military explosives, apparently to hide the possibility that she was pregnant at the hands of a high-ranking Malaysian official or someone close to him. Altantuya apparently knew too much about the scandal-scarred purchase of U$1 billion of French-built submarines that served no useful purpose for the Royal Malaysian Navy other than to steer €140 million in kickbacks and bribes into the coffers of the United Malays National Organization.
After a trial that because of delays took the better part of two years, which a confidential US Embassy cable described as apparently “subject to strong political pressure to protect Najib,” Chief Inspector Azila Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar were convicted and sentenced to hang on April 9, 2009 in a farce designed to make sure the names of those who had paid the two to kill the 28-year-old translator and party girl were never known.
Neither has ever been hanged. Azilah on December 16, 2019 alleged in a sworn declaration that he and Azhar Umar had killed her on orders from Najib Razak. Azhar remains in an Australian detention facility, having hinted at the same outcome. But despite that, and despite considerable evidence amassed by Sidhu, no attempt has been made on the part of law enforcement officials to determine if Najib, now on trial for his part in the US$4.6 billion looting of 1MDB, had a role in her killing.
The third case, the murder of Hussain Najadi, the retired founder of AMBank Malaysia, who was gunned down in a parking lot in 2013. Although law enforcement officials said he was shot in a dispute over a Hindu temple property matter, Hussain’s son Pascal has charged that his father was assassinated because he said he wouldn’t play along with financial irregularities involving the United Malays National Organization prior to his death, refusing to orchestrate a multi-billion ringgit property deal connected to the Kuala Lumpur City Center.
On one occasion, Hussain Najadi told his son that Prime Minister Najib Razak was “lining his pockets with billions of ringgit with no consideration for the future of the country.”
A gunman, a minor gangster and tow truck driver named Koong Swee Kwan, was almost immediately arrested and named as the mastermind one Lim Yuen Soo. The property dispute story was widely accepted by everybody but Pascal Najadi, who has charged that Lim had been paid RM30 million for the killing. Lim went on the run for two years.
But Lim, a Melaka gangster and nightclub owner, appeared to be hiding in plain sight. In fact, he was part owner of Active Force Security Services Sdn Bhd. with the former Malacca Police Chief Mohd Khasni Mohd Nor. When police finally caught up with Lim at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, arresting him on an Interpol warrant, they held him incognito for eight days before they turned him loose for “lack of evidence.” But that story raised more questions than it answered. If he could be turned loose for lack of evidence, why wasn’t the original case reopened to find out who had actually paid the gunman to kill Hussain?
Americk Sidhu and others in Kuala Lumpur say they haven’t been able to turn up evidence, or even solid theory that Najadi died on orders from Umno officials. But the mystery remains why the police almost immediately identified the man who ordered Najadi’s killing – a cheap gangster who had never heard of the murdered banker – and issued an international wanted notice for him on Interpol. Lim appears to have been in and out of KL over the two years he was on the Interpol list. Why did the police catch him at KLIA, then free him – seek to identify the real person behind the murder?
Teoh Beng Hock
Teoh Beng Hock, an aide to an opposition member of parliament, died on July 9, 2009 after he fell or was pushed from the roof of the headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission onto the fifth floor after being questioned for eight hours over expenses to buy flags by his boss.
Malaysia's Coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas eventually 2011 ruled out both homicide and suicide in Teoh‘s death, raising a whole new series of questions beyond the one of how the 29-year-old had died. Teoh was being questioned on the 12th floor of the MACC building in the middle of the night before his body was found atop the adjacent building.
"This doesn't make sense, right?" asked an observer in Kuala Lumpur. "It can't be an act of God so it must be the hand of a ghost that took him to the ledge and pushed him off, or the boy sleepwalked."
Despite widespread demands for the appointment of a Royal Commission to look into the case and particularly into the anti-corruption agency's interrogation methods, nothing has ever happened. Teoh was expected to marry his fiancé, who was two months pregnant, on the following Saturday after he died, and would hardly have been expected to be suicidal.
Azmil told a packed courtroom Wednesday that "There remain unsettled issues on the case of suicide and to find this on guesswork is unacceptable. I rule out a verdict of suicide," adding that there existed sufficient evidence to indicate that Teoh had suffered a neck injury before his fall, but that there is "no evidence to confirm that this injury facilitated or contributed to Teoh's demise."
In a powerful opinion piece, senior UMNO stalwart Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah wrote that “Questions about how Mr. Teoh died cannot be shut down with the usual warning that it is ‘liable to confuse the public’ because the public is already confused. We are confused about how an idealistic young man with everything to live for can enter the headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission as a witness one day and be found dead outside the next.”
Questions about Teoh’s death, Razaleigh added, “cannot be suppressed with authoritarian prohibitions because they are about the integrity and independence of institutions that belong to the people. Those ministers who talk down to the people may have forgotten who put them into government and pays their wages, and whose questions they were put there to ask. And to answer.”
Nonetheless, those questions were never answered. They have never been answered in the cases of Kevin Morais, Altantuya Shaarriibuu, Hussain Najadi or Teoh Beng Hock. The opposition during its two years in power did nothing to answer them. It is impossible to believe the new government, with its wellsprings in UMNO and PAS, will do any better.
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Not forgeting the numerous deaths in custody.