It is about time for Malaysia to drop the charade. Attempting to convict opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of forcible sodomy is an embarrassment in contrast with the completely ignored and much more serious allegations linking the deputy prime minister to the execution-style murder of his reputed former girlfriend.
As has been reported widely, two sworn declarations have been filed that raise reasonable suspicions that the October 2006 murder of Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu is tied directly to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor. Yet instead of this high profile politician being in the dock to explain himself, one of those who filed a sworn declaration about his actions is about to go on trial for criminal libel. The other was dragooned into recanting his statement before he fled the country.
The courts and the legal system have deliberately overlooked allegations of Najib's complicity in the Mongolian woman's murder, and considerable related evidence of massive corruption on his part in the purchase of three French submarines for the Malaysian military - a purchase that Altantuya apparently participated in as a translator. This has been pushed under the carpet repeatedly and now the nation is being distracted by accusations of Anwar's peccadilloes, real or fabricated.
Mahathir Mohammad, the long-serving prime minister who quit in 2002, had a single ambition - to reach developed-nation status by 2020. But you cannot be a first-world country with a legal system whose main characteristics are shared by the likes of Zimbabwe, Burma and North Korea. Mahathir, of course, bears a major part of the blame for the legal system, starting from his destruction of the judiciary in the 1980s. But what is going on now, six years after he was succeeded by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is nothing more than the United Malays National Organisation's manipulation of the system a la Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. This has nothing to do with ideology but with the dubious necessity of maintaining a political party in power.
When the legendary American bank robber Willie Sutton once was asked why he robbed banks, he famously replied: "That's where the money is." Government in Malaysia is where the money is, and that is where UMNO intends to stay despite its disastrous March 8 election results, which cost the national ruling coalition the two-thirds hold on parliament it has enjoyed for half a century. There is no better example of this than the submarine and its ties to the murder of Altantuya.
As Asia Sentinel has repeated frequently, according to testimony in the trial of Altantuya's accused murderer Abdul Razak Baginda, her then-lover and one of the three men accused of killing her, the murdered woman accompanied him to Paris at a time when Malaysia's defense ministry, headed by Najib, was negotiating through a Malaysian company, Perimekar Sdn Bhd, to buy two Scorpene submarines and a used Agosta submarine produced by the French government under a French-Spanish joint venture, Armaris. Perimekar at the time was owned by a company called Ombak Laut, which was wholly owned by Abdul Razak.
The contract was not competitive. The Malaysian ministry of defense paid €1 billion (RM4.5 billion) to Amaris for the three submarines, for which Perimekar received a commission of €114 million (RM510 million). Deputy Defense Minister Zainal Abdidin Zin told the Dewan Rakyat, Malaysia's parliament, that the money was paid for "coordination and support services" although the fee amounted to a whopping 11 percent of the sales price for the submarines.
Altantuya, by her own admission in the last letter she wrote before her murder, had been blackmailing Razak, pressuring him for US$500,000. She did not say how she was blackmailing him, leaving open lots of questions.
Myriad questions have been raised by the year-long trial of Razak and two of Najib's bodyguards for Altantuya's murder. At every turn, those questions could have been answered by calling Najib to the stand. How could Razak, a civilian and Najib's closest friend, get the two bodyguards to kill Altantuya without Najib's knowledge? Najib could answer. How could the record of the victim being in the country disappear completely from Immigration Department records, as was sworn in court? Najib could answer. How could the murderers get their hands on the plastic explosives available only to the military used to blow up her body? Najib could answer. Why did neither the prosecution nor the defense push to investigate a statement made by Altantuya's cousin on the stand that she had seen a picture of Najib, Razak and Altantuya together at a dinner? Najib could answer.
The statutory declaration of P Balasubramaniam, the private detective hired by Razak to keep Altantuya away from him after their relationship had ended, is so closely detailed that it beggars disbelief that it was fabricated. It makes Najib an integral part of the case, something most of Malaysia's top government and judicial officials have been seeking to avoid ever since the trial began.
Balsasubramaniam released his sworn statement in the company of his lawyer, which makes it difficult to believe he was coerced. But immediately afterward he was summoned to a meeting with an assistant superintendant of police in Jalan Brickfields, where he was convinced - outside the presence of his lawyer that his memory was faulty. He then signed a statement that his original one had been compelled, and left the country.
In the original declaration Balasubramaniam said Razak told him he had been introduced to Altantuya "by a VIP...who asked him to look after her financially." Najib, the declaration said, had introduced Razak to Altantuya at a diamond exhibition in Singapore and that Najib had had a sexual relationship with her in the past. Razak was to look after the woman because Najib "did not want her to harass him since he was now the Deputy Prime Minister."
Is that true? Najib could answer.
Interestingly, according to the document, Razak told Balasubramaniam that Altantuya liked anal sex, which is illegal in Malaysia whether performed with men or women. Anwar might like to make that point to the authorities.
Balasubramaniam also detailed cell phone calls between Najib and Razak in the period after Altantuya's murder. Did the police check Razak's phone? Najib could answer.
Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the influential internet journalist, is expected to go on trial for criminal defamation for saying that Najib's wife was present at the murder. Rather than bringing in Najib and Rosmah to answer questions, they have gone after Raja Petra, who has threatened his own time bombs during his trial. Asked by Asia Sentinel what those revelations might be, he said he would prefer to save them for testimony under oath.
The one truly sad dupe in all this is the prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who in all of his sorry reign as prime minister has largely preserved his reputation for integrity despite his fecklessness. Badawi has defended his deputy's reputation in the face of the fact that virtually all of Kuala Lumpur's chattering classes have long since become convinced of the couple's complicity. Unleashing two thoroughly corrupt law enforcement officials to go after Anwar - Abdul Ghani Patail, the attorney general *, and Musa Hassan, the head of the police, who plainly fabricated evidence in Anwar's 10-year-old conviction on the same offense, is particularly egregious.
This isn't to say Anwar is innocent. The jury, to use a newly valid cliché, is still out. But compare the two. What kind of priorities does this government have in going after a 61-year-old opposition leader with a bad back who presumably would have had a hard time chasing down a mobile 23-year-old aide, when there is the possibility of finding the true perpetrators of an execution murder of a defenseless 28-year-old mother? This is the behavior of a despotic system with an eye only to its own preservation. The Malaysian people deserve better.
Please note; Abdul Ghani Patail's title was inadveretently misstated earlier. We apologize.