|Our Correspondent||Nov 16, 2006|
Setting the stage for a lurid courtroom drama that is sure to grip a country that officially sees itself as upright and puritanical, one of Malaysia’s most prominent political analysts has been charged with the gruesome slaying of a Mongolian “free lance” fashion model who claimed that he was her lover and the father of her infant child.
Well-connected analyst Abdul Razak Baginda was charged with “abetment”, or ordering the murder of his alleged Mongolian love interest, Altantuya Shaaribuu, in the magistrate's court in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. He faces a mandatory death penalty if convicted.
The skeletal remains of the 28-year old woman, described as “stunning” in press reports, shot twice and torn apart by explosives, were found by police on November 6 in a jungle hilltop near Kuala Lumpur after she had been reported missing. She was later identified through DNA testing.
Razak, the head of a think tank with strong connections to the ruling party and the Malaysian military, is alleged to have conspired in ordering two policemen to kill the woman on October 18, while the slaying allegedly took place the following day. No plea was recorded from Razak.
Also charged in the case are chief inspector Azilah Hadri, 30, and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, 35, both officers of the elite Special Action Force, who were indicted on Wednesday.
Given Razak’s strong political connections – he is close to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, the deputy prime minister and long time defense minister – and the element of illicit sex, the case is likely to shine unwanted attention on the inner workings of the United Malays National Organization, Malaysia’s dominant ethnic party.
The public will want to know how Razak, for example, was allegedly able to conspire with elite police officers normally reserved for service to the upper echelons of government. A trial of this nature is likely to allow even the normally tame Malaysian media a certain latitude in a country UMNO has ruled with an iron hand for decades.
Shaaribuu arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Mongolia on Oct. 6 intent on getting Razak to acknowledge his role as the father of her baby, according to press accounts. She reportedly also asked for money.
Accompanied by her sister and a cousin, she claimed that the baby was the product of a relationship she had with Razak when he visited Mongolia two years ago.
The model even claimed the analyst was her husband. Razak is divorced.
Initially, Razak was held for questioning along with three Malaysian police personnel including a woman detective from the SAF, which is used to guard VIPs and other dignitaries. The woman officer was released on bail Wednesday after her two colleagues were charged.
One of the most accessible and quotable of local analysts, Razak is not a politician but his think tank, the Malaysian Strategic Research Institute, functioned as an international propaganda vehicle for both UMNO and the Malaysian armed forces.
Razak, 46, who became head of the institute when it was set up in 1993, is endowed with a charm, a command of language and easy access to power due to his connections with Najib. A prolific writer, he penned a book in praise of the Malaysian Armed Forces, published by them, and numerous other works including “Malaysia and the Islamic World,” a collection of essays he edited with a forward by Najib.
According to news reports, Shaaribuu found out where Razak lived, but she never got to see him. Police say she received a phone call to meet him but according to news reports she was pushed into a car and driven away, never to be seen again.
When she did not return to her hotel, the sister and cousin lodged reports with the police, and eventually with the Mongolian honorary consul. Mongolian authorities expressed their concern directly to the government.
Ultimately, a task force of 40 police officers was assembled to put together the circumstances that led the woman to visit Razak’s house, and whether he had summoned the police officers to take her away.
Local news reports also indicated that police were investigating where the model and Razak first met and whether they had had a sexual relationship. Musa Hassan, the inspector general of police, promised there would be no cover-up.
“Whoever is involved will be brought to book regardless of his stature,” Musa told reporters before charges were laid. “I am also going to find out how and who authorized the issuance of the explosives used in the murder.”
Razak’s lawyer, Shafee Abdullah, had earlier acknowledged that his client knew the victim, according to the Associated Press, but said he was certain he would be cleared.
“I am totally convinced of his innocence,” Shafee said after Razak was first remanded for questioning, “he is completely unimplicated."