By: Our Correspondent

In his latest attempt to clean up his reputation although not necessarily his act, it appears that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak or others in Malaysia’s tainted government is attempting to steer away suspicion over his possible complicity in the 2006 death of Altantuya Shaariibuu, the 28-year old Mongolian woman who was murdered by two of his bodyguards and was said to have once been his girlfriend before he passed her to his best friend.

One of those bodyguards, Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, has been sitting in an Australian immigration detention center since the middle of January 2015 after having fled Malaysia when an appellate court briefly freed him, only to have his conviction restored by the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest tribunal. In a series of broadcasts made for television – wearing a white skullcap indicating he had been on the haj and was thus a purified Muslim – he denied that Najib had anything to do with the murder and said five unnamed individuals – presumably from the opposition – had put him up to saying he was ordered to kill the woman by Malaysian officials, whom he has never named.

It is unlikely that Sirul will ever elaborate truthfully on his statements about who ordered the two to kill the *pregnant woman. Shortly after he was detained, two lawyers from the United Malays National Organization flew to Australia to represent him, and apparently to tell him to shut up. One is Hasnal Rezua Merican, an UMNO Youth division leader, and the other is Kamarul Hisham Kamaruddin, a former deputy prosecutor who represented Sirul during his original trial and who, when he received his datukship, was described as “of UMNO headquarters.”

That raises questions whether UMNO is paying for Sirul’s legal fees, and raises a further question why the country’s biggest political party, and the leading party in the government, is paying the bills for a fugitive and convicted murderer. 

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The story now being peddled by Sirul is a clumsy attempt to direct responsibility for the killing away from the government and Najib. The statement contradicts events and facts made known during the long trial and appeal process that put the two of them on death row as well as later statements from Australia.

In a February, 2015 telephone conversation with the news portal Malaysiakini, Sirul said he had taken orders from his superiors in executing the murder “to safeguard the interests of the nation.”

“If I die today, I would not find peace as I did what I was told and this is what I get in return,” he was quoted as saying.

The married Abdul Razak Baginda, the jilted Altantuya’s lover and Najib’s best friend, told investigators during his own questioning after her death that Altantuya was harassing him and making a public spectacle in front of his home, and that he had asked for help from Musa Safri, Najib’s aide-de-camp. 

On three occasions during the lengthy appeal process after he was convicted in 2009, Sirul’s lawyers said Musa should have been called for a statement in his original trial. Musa has repeatedly been named as the individual who ordered Sirul and his co-killer to pick up Altantuya in front of Razak Baginda’s home.  Despite that, he was never questioned by police. Abdul Majid Tun Hamzah, who led the prosecution team, argued in all three courts that Musa was not a key witness in the trial.

Sirul’s legal team submitted that the prosecution’s refusal to put Musa in the witness stand amounted to a mistrial.

Najib now has been named by a French prosecutor of having been the recipient of €114 million in bribes to buy submarines from a subsidiary of DCN, the French defense giant. Altantuya, then Razak Baginda’s girlfriend, was named as their translator in records seized from DCN and the subsidiary. After she was murdered, a letter found in her hotel room described an attempt to blackmail Razak Baginda for US$500,000. It is widely assumed that her knowledge of the transactions figured in the blackmail attempt.

Sirul originally told reporters allowed to interview him at the Sydney center that a cautioned statement he gave to police in 2006 describing the murder was accurate, and that unnamed individuals were willing to pay him and his co-killer, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, RM50,000 to RM100,000 to shut up the 28-year-old fixture on the international party circuit. However, he declined to name the individual who had ordered the two to kill her, or why.

In his statement after he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, Sirul begged for mercy, saying he was being made a scapegoat for killing her. After his detention in Australia, Sirul spoke to Malaysiakini by telephone , saying he took orders from his superiors in executing the murder to safeguard the interest of the nation.

“If I die today, I would not find peace as I did what I was told and this is what I get in return,” he was quoted as saying.

He has since disavowed that statement, which has been reprinted by Asia Sentinel and which has been seen by more than 54,000 readers. It is here. In that confession, he said Azilah had spoken of a reward of RM50,000 and RM100,000(US$12,408-24,096 at current exchange rates) if “the case was settled.”  The “case” to be “settled” was the killing of Altantuya Shaariibuu. Implicit in his confession is that that offer must have originated at Bukit Aman, the headquarters of the Royal Malaysia Police in Kuala Lumpur. In that confession, Sirul actually said the two had driven Altantuya to the police headquarters to change cars.

Certainly, in the years of trials and appeals following their 2006 arrest, the question that has never been answered is why two top police commandos from a special unit under Najib’s control out of the blue would decide to murder a woman they had never heard of nor met. It is one of many questions surrounding the trial, in which both defense and prosecutors did their level best to try to contain the matter to the two.

Najib and 1Malaysia Development Bhd, the troubled state-backed investment fund, have a sea of troubles in four countries. Swiss officials have charged that US$4 billion has disappeared from 1MDB. Singaporean officials have sequestered bank accounts of several individuals connected to 1MDB. In Malaysia, officials have been blocked by Najib from investigating how US$681 million turned up in his personal bank account at AmBank in Kuala Lumpur in 2013, only to see most of it flow back out to an unknown destination later that year. French prosecutors have charged two top officials of a subsidiary of the French defense firm DCN with having bribed Najib – by name – to the tune of €114 million –in the sale of the submarines that preceded Altantuya’s death.

The US Justice Department is investigating money laundering charges against the Najib family for properties owned by nominees in New York and California, and whether Malaysian public funds were used to fund the blockbuster movie Wolf of Wall Street, produced by Red Granite Productions, which is partly owned by the son by her first marriage of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor.

*Although the translation of Sirul’s confession published by Asia Sentinel in 2009 indicated Altantuya begged for her life because she was carrying an unborn child, Sirul has disputed that in recent television interviews, saying Altantuya said she had a child at home.  The matter is open to question, given that the Malay language is somewhat imprecise. During the original trial of the two bodyguards, it was asserted that she was indeed pregnant.