Tame TV, Malaysian-Style, Goes Easy on Najib

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak went onto Kuala Lumpur-based TV3, wholly owned by the political party he heads, to deny to presenter Hamdan Ahmir that he had ever met the late Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, murdered by two of his bodyguards in 2006.

The interview, aired on April 9 but taped rather than live apparently to avoid any embarrassments, can only be regarded as a disappointment, not only with Najib’s answers but with Hamdan’s questions, which were a series of softballs lobbed to the prime minister to give him a platform to make a case for his non-involvement.

To questions raised by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over Najib’s possible involvement, Hamdan asked this: “…We all concur that the court had decided in this case ... it is past. But a criticism has surfaced from Tun Mahathir who asked who had ordered the police officers involved to kill Altantuya. It is weird because the case is over. Were you involved in this?”

Najib: This thing happened in 2008 ... a long time ago. Actually, I have recited the oath, Wallahi Wabillahi Watallahi, thrice, including at a mosque in Permatang Pauh in 2008 ... that I had not known Altantuya and I was not at all involved, directly or indirectly. And the police conducted an investigation. And, at that time, Pak Lah (Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi), as the prime minister, had reported, and the Inspector-General of Police had issued a statement saying that I was not involved. And there is no proof at all, whatsoever, that I had known Altantuya. None at all ... no photographs, no documents, no witnesses and what not. The case went through the courts up to the Federal Court. Are we going to question the integrity of the courts which we had safeguarded for so long?

Hamdan: It is understood that you, Datuk Seri, have met with Tun Dr Mahathir on several issues. Did he ask you about the Altantuya case?

Najib: Not directly, but we did discuss it at one time. During the discussion, I noticed that he did not ask whether I was involved in the Altantuya case. And I assumed that the matter did not arise at all. When I had my discussion with Tun Dr Mahathir, I showed my respect for him. For example, although I am the prime minister, I went to his residence rather than insisting that he come to mine. Nevertheless, whatever it is that we discussed, I had to decide as the prime minister.

Hamdan: He (Tun Dr Mahathir) understood when you met him and gave an explanation but why is the matter being raised again?

Najib: He has one or two things that he wants me to do. But I have given my views on the matter…I regard this as a discussion between two individuals ... it is quite healthy if there is a difference of opinion but, regardless, in the end I have to be responsible to the people and party. And most of these matters, I bring to the Cabinet and the Cabinet decides.”

The list of questions Hamdan didn’t ask is considerable. Here are some that Asia Sentinel would have asked.

1. Altantuya Shaariibuu was identified by French prosecutors as a translator in the long-drawn-out transaction in which the Malaysian Ministry of Defense bought Scorpene submarines from the French munitions company DCN. According to the French records, you were instrumental in negotiating the purchase of those submarines (with a huge kickback of EUR114.9 million to UMNO). If Altantuya was recorded by the French government as a translator, how is it that you never met?

2. Both you and Abdul Razak Baginda met in 2005 in Brest, France, with the training crews of the Scorpene submarines your defense department bought, presenting the crews with jackets in honor of their service. At the same time, Altantuya was accompanying Razak Baginda. How is it that, if you were with Razak Baginda, you failed to notice the beautiful Mongolian woman he had on his arm and who toured France in his Ferrari?

3. During the months of trial of the two murderers, why do you think no attempt was made to ascertain their motives in killing her?

4. Sirul Azhar Umar made a full confession of the killing, which he has since verified as accurate. During that confession, he was warned, in accordance with the law, that the confession could be used against him in a court of law. Why was that confession never allowed to be introduced in court despite its apparent legality?

5. Burmaa Oyunchimeg, Altantuya’s cousin, testified on the witness stand, under oath, during the trial of the two murderers, that she had seen a photo of you having dinner with Altantuya and Abdul Razak Baginda. How do you explain her testimony, since she was under oath? Why did prosecutors never follow up on her assertion?

6. Did you, as defense minister and a deeply interested party in this investigation, attempt to ascertain how and why the immigration records of Burmaa Oyunchimeg and Altantuya were mysteriously removed from immigration files so that there was no record of them being in the country during the period when she was killed?

7. Your then aide-de-camp and chief of staff Mohd. Musa Safri, was identified by two participants in the case as having sent the two bodyguards, Sirul Azhar Umar and Azilah Hadri at the behest of Abdul Razak Baginda, then one of your closet friends, to pick up Altantuya Shaariibuu on the night she was killed. Did you question Musa about his role in the affair? If so, what was his role?

8. Azilah was head of your own personal security team. In an affidavit filed with the court, one of your closest friends, Abdul Razak Baginda, Altantuya’s jilted lover, said he had contacted Azilah through Musa. Did you attempt to discover why someone so close to you was involved in this murder?

9. As Minister of Defense, did you attempt to ascertain where Sirul and Azilah were able to obtain military explosives – C4 – that were used to blow up her body after she was shot in the head, since you headed the ministry that controls those explosives ?

10. Sirul in his sworn confession admitted he was acting under orders and said at the end of his trial that he had been made a scapegoat for others who had not been brought to court. In other words, he has tacitly admitted to the crime and confirmed that there may have been others behind it. In his statement, he said he and Azilah were to be paid RM50,000 to RM100,000. Who do you believe was going to pay them?

11. Given the close proximity of all of the participants in this case to you, were you questioned by authorities about any connections to you? It would seem a fundamental element of police work. If you were not questioned, why do you think you were not?

12. In a note discovered after her death, Altantuya said she was attempting to blackmail Abdul Razak Baginda for US$500,000. Since his wife was already aware of the affair, why was she attempting to blackmail him? Was it over the Scorpene submarine transaction? If so, what were the irregularities in the transaction that have already been identified by French investigators?

13. At the opening of the trial, Razak Baginda’s wife, Mazlinda, was heard to shout that her husband “did not want to be prime minister.” That was taken by many as a reference to a report attributed to Razak Baginda that you had passed Altantuya on to him because you didn’t want a mistress on your hands when you eventually got the top job. The private detective P Balasubramaniam later made reference to Razak Baginda’s remark in a sworn statement. Why do you think the two of them said that and that Mazalinda made reference to it?

14. Deepak Jaikishan, a businessman formerly with close ties to your wife Rosmah Mansor, has indicated that Rosmah Mansor, was behind the attempt to bribe Balasubramaniam and get him and his family out of Malaysia immediately after he released a statutory declaration alleging that you had had an affair with Altantuya prior to passing her on to Razak Baginda. Balasubramaniam, before he died, provided considerable evidence that not only Rosmah but two of your brothers were behind that effort. He has provided bank statements and other information showing checks for thousands of ringgit were paid to him to silence him. Why didn’t you sue Balasubramaniam for defamation if his charges were untrue?

15. Why did Johari Razak, your younger brother, - telephone a senior lawyer on the evening of July 3, 2008 to ask him to prepare a second statement for Balasumbramaniam to sign denying the veracity of his original statement? In whose behalf was he acting?

16. Why did Nazim Razak, another of your brothers, meet Balasubramaniam in Kuala Lumpur on the same day and threaten him to follow the instructions of Deepak Jaikishan and leave the country with his family immediately, otherwise his family's safety could not be guaranteed?

17. Sirul is currently in detention in a facility in Sydney. Would you welcome the chance to allow Sirul to tell the story of who employed him and Azilah to kill Antuya?

Given the chance to interview the prime minister on television, Asia Sentinel would be certain to come up with plenty of other equally entertaining questions as well.