Witness Recounts Threats in Malaysian Murder Trial
|Our Correspondent||Jul 4, 2007|
A policewoman described as the prosecution’s star witness in the murder trial of one of Malaysia’s top political analysts testified Tuesday that she had been confined and threatened by police and had been told by a mysterious caller that she could be shot if she became a witness.
Her testimony, however, has been challenged by the prosecution over inconsistencies, and now the case against Abdul Razak Baginda, accused of arranging the murder of Mongolian beauty Altantuya Sharriibuu, could be thrown into disarray.
The witness, Lance Corporal Rohaniza Roslan, 29, the girlfriend of accused Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, now faces the threat of being impeached as a witness.
Asked by the court to clarify serious contradictions in her testimony, Rohaniza said her statement to the police had been made under duress. Plainly troubled, Rohanizh also told the court that the police had added details to her statement that she had not mentioned. Rohaniza added that a police officer from the Serious Crime Unit even offered to free her and Azilah from the charge of murdering Altantuya.
The case revolves around the gruesome death of Altantuya, a jet-setting Mongolian translator and mother of two who was slain last October 18 after she had flown to Kuala Lumpur to confront Abdul Razak, the head of an elite Malay think tank, to demand as much as US$500,000 from him. In a letter read in court last week, Altantuya acknowledged that she had been attempting to blackmail Abdul Razak to force him to give money for the upkeep of their child.
Azilah, 30, and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, 35, both from the police special action squad, are charged with murdering Altantuya. Abdul Razak, 46, is charged with abetting the murder. The three face the death penalty if convicted.
According to her testimony, Rohaniza, who was romantically involved with defendant Azilah, was waiting for her lover to get off duty on the night Altantuya disappeared. She testified that she accompanied the chief inspector to the home of Abdul Razak that night, but her testimony has been hampered by at least five contradictions of the facts and her own testimony.
The murder trial, sensational enough on its own, has become a crucial political event because of the rumored involvement, however peripheral, of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, one of Abdul Razak’s close friends. The two elite policemen who are the alleged hit men were members Najib’s bodyguard unit and a witness has testified that Najib had been photographed with the victim despite his denials of ever having met her.
After months of conjecture, Najib has begun to feel the heat from political figures who are seeking to oust him from office, including – Kuala Lumpur sources say – Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the aristocratic, long-serving former finance minister who has harbored ambitions for decades of becoming prime minister.
In her testimony, Constable Rohaniza said she had been threatened by an ethnic Malay man on June 11. However, she said, she was unable to recognize the caller's voice or the telephone number that registered on the screen of her cell phone.
"The caller said, ‘Don't be a witness or you'll be shot,’" Rohaniza told the hushed court. She lodged a police report on the same day.
According to news reports, the prosecution accused the policewoman of lying in court. Three hours into her testimony, deputy prosecutor Noorin Badaruddin abruptly stopped the examination and stunned the court when she told the judge that the prosecution intended to impeach her testimony.
Lead prosecutor Tun Abdul Majid Tun Hamzah the told Justice Mohd Zaki Md Yasin that the prosecution needed more time to study the witness's statement and asked to adjourn the trial until today for them to complete the task.
The cross-examination was made after the judge allowed all parties to question Rohaniza over five discrepancies between her testimony yesterday and her police statement:
Hazman: “Were you promised anything if you testified?”
Rohaniza: “He said not only that I would be freed, but Azilah too.”
Hazman: “Who was he?”
Rohaniza: “One of the officers who recorded the statement. Officer D6, D9. Can't remember the name.”
Hazman: “Do you agree that after too much being recorded, you were confused.”
The witness also claimed that she was threatened, verbally abused and pressured by many police officers while being held for investigation from Nov 1 to 14, 2006.
In later testimony, Abdul Razak’s secretary Siti Aisyah Mohd Azlan, 24, said the political analyst told her Azilah had killed Altantuya.
“Abdul Razak told me that something bad had happened,” Siti Aisya said. “I asked him what happened. He told me that Aminah (Altantuya’s nickname) was dead. I was surprised. Abdul Razak asked me, ‘Do you know who did it?’ I asked who. He then said, ‘Azilah did it.’”
At this, Azilah's lawyer leapt to his feet to object, but lawyers for Abdul Razak and Sirul Azhar Umar prevailed on the court to allow the testimony to continue.
“Abdul Razak said, ‘I didn't ask Azilah to kill that woman. I asked him to guard the house and protect my family only. I didn't ask him to kill the woman,’” she testified.