Mongolian Translator's Murder Case Still Alive

The Mongolian government has agreed to put up RM60,000 (US$18,525) to fund a civil suit in Kuala Lumpur on behalf of the family of translator Altantuya Shaariibuu against the Malaysian government and the murdered woman's onetime lover, Abdul Razak Baginda, a former close friend of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. Two of Najib's former bodyguards were convicted of the gruesome 2006 murder.

Although details are sketchy, remittance order issues were submitted to the Mongolian Cabinet during June meetings, a source in Ulan Bataar told Asia Sentinel. Some of the remittance orders were classified as secret, the source said. The case has strained relations between Malaysia and Mongolia, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying earlier that the government was carefully observing the trial of the two convicted murderers and had sent four letters through official channels asking that the case be prosecuted free of political influence.

Altantuya's death is at the center of a much larger scandal stemming from the billion-dollar purchase by the Malaysian government of two French submarines and the lease of a third in a deal engineered by Najib when he was defense minister. The purchase was routed through a company owned by Abdul Razak Baginda in a transaction that netted the company €114 million in “commission.”

French lawyers are investigating the case over allegations that large sums were kicked back to top French politicians. For two years, Parisian prosecutors have been investigating other allegations involving senior French political figures up to former French President Francois Mitterrand and the sales of submarines and other weaponry to governments all over the world. French news reports have said the prosecutors have backed away from some of the most serious charges out of concern for the political fallout.

As Asia Sentinel reported on April 16, the allegations relate to one of France's biggest defense conglomerates, the state-owned shipbuilder DCN, which merged with the French electronics company Thales in 2005 to become a dominant force in the European defense industry. DCN's subsidiary Armaris is the manufacturer of Scorpene-class diesel submarines sold to India, Pakistan and Malaysia among other countries. All of the contracts, according to lawyers acting for Suaram, a Malaysian human rights NGO, are said to be suspect. In April, Joseph Breham, one of the lawyers, flew to Kuala Lumpur to interview witnesses in the case. Altantuya told witnesses at her trial that she had been involved as a translator in the submarine matter and that she had been promised US$500,000 for her role.

After a marathon trial involving 75 witnesses, a court in the Malaysian suburb of Shah Alam exonerated Razak Baginda of involvement in her murder without his having to put on a defense. He almost immediately left the country for England. The two convicted bodyguards, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, were members of an elite Malaysian police unit that normally exists to protect diplomats. Although one of the two told investigators they had been offered RM100,000 to kill the woman, the court did not attempt to find out who had offered them the money. Najib has repeatedly denied knowing her although a complex web of circumstantial evidence ties the two together. He has threatened to sue anyone who attempts to link him or his wife, Rosmah Mansour, to the case.

P Balasubramaniam, a private investigator and retired policeman hired by Abdul Razak to keep the jilted Altantuya away from him, filed a statutory declaration in a Kuala Lumpur court in 2007 alleging that Najib not only knew the murdered woman but was formerly her lover and introduced her to Abdul Razak to get rid of her because it would be unseemly to have a mistress when, as expected, he took over as prime minister. Balasubramaniam was intimidated into recanting his statement and promptly disappeared. He resurfaced to reiterate the charges and is scheduled to give a press conference on July 7 at 11 am in the Holiday Villa in London to give further details. Altantuya's father, Setev Shaariibuu, a university professor, has made it a longtime crusade to attempt to find out what really happened to his daughter. At one point he attempted to meet Najib at Malaysia's parliament building but was rebuffed. He is seeking RM100 million from the Malaysian government and Razak Baginda in the civil suit. However, he later told reporters he didn't have the money for the security bond, saying his efforts to get help from the Mongolian government had failed.

Karpal Singh, a Democratic Action Party leader and lawyer representing the Shaariibuu family, told the news portal Malaysian Insider that the RM60,000 had been transferred to his firm's account on Monday and that it would be deposited with the Shah Alam High Court, where the trial of the two bodyguards had taken place, on June 30. He had earlier said he would help Shaariibuu get the money from the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition if necessary.

According to Malaysian Insider, the government and Abdul Razak said Shaariibuu should bear the cost of the civil suit. The court initially fixed the security bond at RM1.25 million, but lowered it to RM30,00 per party in March after Shaariibuu protested. Shaariibuu, the story said, is also required to pay Abdul Razak and the federal government a further sum of RM5,000 each for the cost of the court application.