The Confession that Never Was

See also: Sirul Azhar Statement

On November 9, 2006, at Kuala Lumpur's Travers police station, Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, then a 35-year-old member of the country's elite Special Action bodyguard unit under Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, sat down and confessed to the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu.

The dead woman, a Mongolian translator who had been executed nearly three weeks before in gruesome fashion with two bullets to the head, is at the center of what would be one of Malaysia's biggest political scandals ever, involving not only sex and murder but hundreds of millions of dollars in defense contracts. But the case, which has been underway in a Shah Alam courtroom since June of 2007, is notable for what neither the prosecution, the defense or the judge appeared to want to be bought into open court.

On Feb. 3, a tearful Sirul asked the court not to sentence him to death for Altantuya's murder, saying he was like "a black sheep that has to be sacrificed" to protect unnamed people who have never been brought to court or faced questioning.

"I have no reason to cause hurt, what's more to take the life of the victim in such a cruel manner," Sirul said. "I appeal to the court, which has the powers to determine if I live or die, not to sentence me so as to fulfil others' plans for me."

Sirul and Azilah are now awaiting sentencing despite the fact that the trial was concluded in February. Sirul's confession is an extraordinary and chilling document. In the session, tape-recorded and conducted in Bahasa Malaysia, or Malay language, Sirul was told he was not obliged to answer questions but that whether in answer to questions or not, his remarks would be recorded as a statement.

But although the volunary confession indicates that Sirul had been cautioned, it has been ruled inadmissible in the long-running trial of Sirul and his boss, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, and Abdul Razak Baginda, the admitted lover who jilted Altantuya after a torrid affair. Razak was later declared not guilty and freed without having to put on a defense. He has since left the country for England.

An extraordinary amount of evidence connects Najib, now preparing to become Malaysia's prime minister, to the case. SMS messages exist between Baginda and Najib reassuring him not to worry when he was first under suspicion, saying Najib would fix things. A private investigator hired by Razak Baginda to keep Altantuya away from him after she returned to Malaysia to confront him said in a statutory declaration that Baginda, a well-connected head of a political think tank, had told him Najib had introduced Altantuya to him. The private investigator was forced to recant his statement and hurriedly left the country.

Although Sirul's statement was ruled inadmissible, presumably that would not have prevented lawyers from repeating the questions in open court in an attempt to get him to answer them. Among other things, in the confession, Sirul says "Azilah talked about a reward of between RM50,000 and RM100,000 if the case was settled."

Since Baginda has been freed, it raises the question of who else was going to pay the two men to kill Altantuya. That question was never asked or answered in court.

In other court testimony, Sirul said Azilah had told him "there was work to be done and just asked me to follow him." Musa Safri, Najib Tun Razak's chief of staff, he testified, "had told him about a friend …who had women problems." {mospagebreak}

Neither Najib nor Musa has been questioned about who sent the two men first to the Hotel Malacca, where, according to the testimony, Azilah wanted Sirul to kill not only Altantuya but the two women who had accompanied her to Kuala Lumpur in an attempt to confront Baginda.

According to other reports, Altantuya had served as a translator in Paris for the Malaysian government's US$1 billion purchase of three French submarines which was routed through a firm owned by Baginda and which netted him a €114 million commission. Najib, one of Baginda's best friends, was defense secretary at the time and engineered the purchase.

In a letter found after Altantuya's death, she expressed regret for attempting to blackmail Razak. Baginda, in a statement to the police, said she was asking for US$500,000 from him, presumably for her role in the transaction.

Sirul and Azilah went to the Malaya Hotel but decided not to kill the three women "because of the presence of CCTV (closed circuit television cameras)."

Ultimately, according to the confession, the two went to Razak Baginda's house where "there was a Chinese woman (Altantuya) who was causing a commotion."

The two, with the help of a Malay woman, presumably Lance Corporal Rohaniza Roslan, Azila's former girlfriend, bundled Altantuya into a red Proton Wira and drove her to where Sirul's jeep awaited. Rohaniza later claimed she had been coerced to change her testimony. The prosecution attempted to impeach her as a witness.

"Along the journey, Azilah asked me to find a place to ‘shoot to kill the Chinese woman." Eventually after she was driven to Sirul's house to pick up the military explosives that would be wrapped around her body after she was dead, she was then driven to the Punchak Alam forest reserve near the suburban city of Shah Alam.

"I saw Azilah outside the jeep carrying a bag containing an M5 weapon and silencer from the jeep that was located at the foot rest of the passenger seat and gave it to me ordering me to ‘shoot to kill' the Chinese woman who was inside the jeep."

They took her jewelry and other articles, Sirul said, and "I saw that she was in a state of fear and she pleaded not to kill her and said she was expecting." Nonetheless, Azilah wrestled her to the ground, apparently knocking her unconscious, and "I opened fire towards the left side of the woman's head. After the Chinese woman was shot, Azilah removed all her clothes and I took a black garbage bag and Azilah put all the Chinese woman's clothes into the bag."

Azilah, he said, "noticed movements in the Chinese woman's arm and ordered me to fire another shot but the gun did not fire. I then emptied the weapon and loaded the gun again and fired another shot at the same area which was the left side of the woman's head. I then took a black plastic garbage bag and with Azilah's help put the bag over the Chinese woman's head to prevent blood from spilling."

With Sirul holding her arms and Azilah holding her legs, they carried Altantuya into the woods. "Azilah then carried the bag containing the explosives and handed it to me. I took the explosives and attached them to the victim's head while Azilah attached the explosives on the victim's legs up to the abdomen." After attaching a wire to the explosives, they blew her up.

After returning to the Bukit Aman police station, "I had a bath and changed clothes and put the clothes that I wore during the incident together with the victim's clothes into a plastic bag. After that, I entered the jeep and drove the jeep to a rubbish container in the Bukit Aman area near a construction site. I threw some of the victim's belongings and the wire that was used to detonate the explosives together with the empty bag that contained the explosives into the container.'

Then he went home and went to sleep.