Update: Political analyst freed on bail in Mongolian Model Murder
|Our Correspondent||Nov 23, 2006|
A prominent Malaysian political analyst with close ties to one of the country’s top political figures was freed on bail Thursday after posting a 1 million ringgit bond and pleading not guilty to abetting the sensational murder of a Mongolian beauty queen whose baby he allegedly fathered.
Abdul Razak Baginda, 46, entered the not guilty plea in the Kuala Lumpur High Court, according to the Bernama news agency. He is due to go on trial on December 14 for the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a sometime model whose body was found in a patch of jungle near the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Shah Alam in November after she had reportedly been shot twice and torn apart with hand grenades available only to Malaysia’s security forces.
Arrested along with Razak were Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, 30 and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, 35, members of an elite Malaysian police unit that normally exists to protect diplomats. According to court documents, Razak is alleged to have conspired with the two policemen to kill the woman on October 18 in his office. The two policemen were not allowed bail along with Razak, giving rise to public irritation in Malaysia that it was Razak's political ties that got him freed, an unusual act for a capital murder case that carries the possibility of the death penalty.
"It's an absolute injustice," a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer told Asia Sentinel. "This is a non-bailable offence." To Razak's plea that he was suffering from ill health, the lawyer replied: "Prisons have hospital facilities even if Razak is sick and in fact his sickness is not life-threatening and does not warrant bail. It is only athsma."
According to Section 388(1) of Malaysia's penal code, the lawyer quoted: "When any person accused of any non-bailable offence is accused or detained without warrant by a police officer or appears or is brought before the court he may be released by the officer in charge of the police district or by the court, but he shall not be so released if there appear reasonable grounds for believing that he has been guilty of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life.
The trial is already raising difficult questions in Malaysia, including whether Razak’s ties to government officials were close enough that he was allegedly able to conspire with elite police officers normally reserved for service to the upper echelons of government. Razak has close ties to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, is also the country’s defense minister and the son of Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister. The trial also may allow even the normally tame Malaysian media a certain latitude in a country that the United Malays National Organisation, the lead partner in the country’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, has ruled with an iron hand for decades.
Shaaribuu, a freelance model who according to her website had studied modeling in Paris, arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Mongolia on Oct. 6, reportedly intent on getting Razak to acknowledge his role as the father of her baby, according to press accounts, and asking for money. Accompanied by her sister and a cousin, Sharariibuu claimed that the baby was the product of a relationship she had with Razak when he visited Mongolia two years ago, telling others in Malaysia that the political 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.
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.
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 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.
“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, an equally well-connected Malay lawyer, 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."