A Malaysian private investigator in hiding for more than a year after recanting a sensational statement connecting now-Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to the murder of a Mongolian translator, has surfaced to reaffirm his allegations and to say he had been offered a RM5 million (US$1.48 million) bribe to disappear by a businessman said to be connected to Najib's wife, Rosmah Mansor.
The attractive translator, Altantuya Shaariibuu, was murdered by two of Najib's elite bodyguards in October of 2006 in a particularly gruesome fashion. After she was shot twice in the head, her body was blown up with C4 military explosives. Any indication that she and two friends had entered Malaysia disappeared from the immigration department's records.
The statement by the private detective, P Balasubramaniam, in a YouTube video, appeared on Malaysia Today, the website run by Malaysian journalist Raja Petra Kamaruddin, who promised far more startling episodes in the near future. As many as five segments, accounting for 20 minutes of revelations, remain to be aired, he said in an email to Asia Sentinel. The first segment can be found here.
Balasubramaniam said in his original statutory declaration that he had been hired by Abdul Razak Baginda, one of Najib's closest friends, to protect him from the wrath of Altantuya after he had jilted her. Razak Baginda was originally charged with the murder along with Najib's bodyguards but was acquitted without having to put on a defense.
In the 90-second video, Balasubramaniam said he had met with the businessman, Deepak Jaikshnan, the director of a carpet firm, in a bak ku teh (pork rib soup) restaurant in the Rawang* suburb where he lived, in which the businessman offered him the money. In an accompanying story in Malaysia Today, Raja Petra displayed photocopies of RM50,000 checks on Public Bank of Malaysia made out by Deepak Jaikshnan. Although no indication was given of where Balasubramaniam is now, other sources say he may be in India. In the videotape, he was said to be in the company of three Malaysian lawyers.
Almost immediately on giving his original statement tying Najib to Altantuya in the company of his lawyer and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the private investigator was hustled to a Kuala Lumpur police station where he wholly and completely recanted the original, saying he had been coerced into making it by Anwar and others. Then he and his family disappeared. He had not been heard from since.
In his original statement, Balasubramaniam said he was making it because of his "disappointment at the standard of investigations conducted by the authorities into the circumstances surrounding the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu." He wrote that he wanted the "relevant authorities to reopen their investigations into this case immediately so that any fresh evidence may be presented to the Court prior to submissions at the end of the prosecutions [sic] case."
According to letters found after Altantuya was murdered, she was attempting to blackmail the married Razak Baginda for US$500,000 after he had broken off their affair after spending thousands of dollars on her. The two bodyguards, Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar and his boss, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, were convicted of the murder and have been sentenced to hang. They are currently appealing the sentence. Sirul confessed to the murder, although the confession was never allowed into evidence in the trial, and said the two had been offered RM100,000 to kill the woman.
The marathon trial was notable for the extensive lengths the defense, prosecution and judge all went to in a bid to keep Najib's name out of it. Although Razak Baginda, in a cautioned statement, said he had gone to Musa Safri, Najib's chief of staff, to ask for help in keeping Altantuya away from him, neither Musa Safri nor Najib was ever called to give evidence or appear in court. Razak Baginda almost immediately left the country for England after his acquittal. The two bodyguards have rarely been seen in public. When they are produced, their heads are usually covered, leading cynics to speculate that when it comes time to hang them, some other luckless criminals might be forced to substitute for them.
The private investigator said in 2008 that he had had extensive conversations with Razak Baginda in the days leading up to Altantuya's death in which he was told she had been introduced to Razak Baginda at a diamond exhibition in Singapore and that she had been handed off to him to look after her because Najib "did not want her to harass him since he was now the deputy prime minister."
It should be noted that on occasion Malaysia Today has been spectacularly wrong. At one point the website said Rosmah Mansor had been present at Altantuya's murder, although Sirul's confession made no mention of her and no other evidence has emerged to indicate she had been in the jungle clearing where the translator died. He has also delivered sensational reports that have been verified.
In the story on the website on the same day the YouTube video appeared, Raja Petra recalled that he had been having lunch with Balasubramaniam when the private detective received a call saying a police supervisor named Suresh was telephoning him to tell him his family's security was at stake. After he had repudiated his statement, according to Raja Petra, he was whisked to India and hidden. Balasubramaniam, Raja Petra wrote, had no choice but to accept the RM50,000 a month and "retirement' in India or suffer the same fate as Altantuya.
"Little did they know that Bala was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment to strike back. And now he is striking back and has come out to reveal what really happened since the time he signed his first Statutory Declaration, followed by the second one the following day, 16 months ago," Raja Petra wrote.
The Altantuya murder, with its long-rumored ties to Najib, has had the potential to blow up into one of Malaysia's biggest scandals ever since the time the woman's body was found near a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. In his original declaration, Balasubramaniam said he had been told by Razak Baginda that the woman wanted the US$500,000 apparently as a commission owed to her from "a deal in Paris." The document also purported to confirm long-reported rumors that Najib, Razak and Altantuya had been at a dinner in Paris during the time when the submarine transaction was being negotiated. During the trial, a cousin of Altantuya's said she had seen a picture of the three at dinner, but the prosecution and defense both refused to take the matter further.
That deal was the purchase by the Malaysian government of three submarines at a cost of US$1 billion. According to testimony in Malaysia's parliament, a company controlled by Razak Baginda received a €117 "commission" for the purchase of the submarines from the French military. Interestingly, in late October the son of the late French President Francois Mitterrand and a former minister were convicted of taking bribes relating to the sale of a huge amount of arms to the government of Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos between 1993 and 1998 in defiance of a United Nations arms embargo. Some 42 persons were accused of selling weapons to the Angolans. Despite calls to have Paris look into the Malaysian submarine transactions for possible evidence of corruption, no action has been taken and it appears unlikely that it will be.
Correction. We misnamed the suburb. We thank our sharp-eyed reader for catching the mistake.