By: John Berthelsen

Azilah Hadri, the elite police chief inspector convicted of killing Altantuya Shaariibuu in October of 2006, has alleged in a sworn declaration that he and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar killed the jetsetting Mongolian party girl and interpreter on orders from the former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The revelations, made public on December 16, are big trouble for Najib, who despite the millstone of the USS$4.8 billion 1Malaysian Development Bhd scandal around his neck has been undergoing a political renaissance of sorts partly due to the incompetence of the government that replaced the Barisan Nasional, and through his own adroit maneuvering to put the Barisan back together. 

The murder of Altantuya, which featured in a massive defense scandal that reached some of the top government officials in Malaysia and France including then-foreign minister Alain Juppe, was at that point arguably the biggest such affair ever to rock the top of the Malaysian government and included heroic attempts to keep it under wraps. 

It has since been eclipsed by the 1MDB affair, in which Najib and his friend Jho Taek Low are accused of looting the state-backed investment fund for billions of dollars. That case has also featured two murders, one of the late banker Hassan Ahmad Najadi, and a second of Kevin Morais, a former top investigator with the Malaysian Anti-Crime Commission who was investigating the 1MDB affair. 

As to whether Najib will be arrested or not, a prominent lawyer in Kuala Lumpur pointed out that “Azilah’s sworn declaration is in support of a motion to the federal court for a review of his conviction. There is a whole bunch of brand-new judges sitting. The old guard [who protected Najib in the past] are all retired. The timing is perfect. Papers have to be served on the attorney general, appointed by the new government, as respondent. Do you think he’ll object?” 

Najib immediately denied the allegations, telling local media they were “a complete fabrication by a desperate person seeking to escape the gallows.” Although he swore on the Quran after Altantuya’s disappearance that he had never met her, Azilah in his declaration said he had seen both Najib and Razak Baginda with her. Lawyers for the slain woman’s family demanded that Azilah’s allegations be investigated.

Najib at the time of the Mongolian beauty’s disappearance was the defense minister, involved in the purchase of submarines in which the equivalent of US$141.2 million in kickbacks had been funneled to him, his best friend Abdul Razak Baginda and the United Malays National Organization, according to a series of prize-winning stories published in 2012 by Asia Sentinel. 

Altantuya allegedly had been shared by both men before the married Razak Baginda jilted her, according to a now-dead private detective named P Balasubramaniam. According to a letter found in her hotel room after her gruesome murder in a patch of jungle near the suburb of Shah Alam, she was attempting to blackmail Razak Baginda for US$500,000. Her body was blown up with military explosives.

Azilah, in his 7,464-word declaration, which can be found here, said Altantuya, the mother of a small boy in Mongolia, told people in Kuala Lumpur that she was pregnant, leading to the speculation that her body had been blown up to hide the pregnancy after Sirul shot her twice in the head, according to his own confession. 

According to the declaration, which he swore on October 17 in Malaysia’s Kajang Prison, Najib told him Altantuya, then Razak Baginda’s girlfriend, was a foreign spy who had “several pieces of information related to national secrets, national security assets, and the DPM’s secrets are known to this foreign spy. The DPM is worried that this foreign spy would reveal those secrets. The foreign spy had come to Malaysia twice.”

 “I asked the DPM what he meant by ‘arrest and destroy the foreign spy’ and he responded: ‘Shoot to kill,’ indicating a ‘neck cut signal.’ When asked about the purpose of destroying the foreign spy with explosives, the DPM replied: ‘Dispose the foreign spy body with an explosive device to remove the traces. The explosives can be obtained from the (Unit Tindakan Khas, the Malaysian Police Special Action Force) store.” 

Razak Baginda, Azilah said in the statement, was fully complicit in the order to kill the woman. 

“I was then told by Razak Baginda that this foreign spy must be executed while showing a sign of ‘cutting the neck’ with his hand [the same gesture used by the DPM in Pekan] and to destroy the foreign spy’s body by disposing her body using explosives,” he wrote. 

It has long been suspected that the two, elite members of the UTK who served as bodyguards for top officials, had killed the 28-year-old woman on orders from above. The two were convicted in April of 2009 after a 159-day trial in which both the defense and the prosecution as well as the judge sought to make sure that nobody other than the two of them were identified or charged. The case was rife with omissions. 

Sirul, in his own statutory declaration, which can be found here, admitted to killing the woman and said he and Azilah had been offered RM50,000 to RM100,000 to kill her. His statement describes in graphic terms the events that led to her death and the destruction of her body with military explosives. He first knocked her unconscious and shot her, then shot her again to make sure she was dead, he told investigators.

But Sirul’s confession was never admitted in court despite its seeming legality. Neither the prosecutors, the defense nor the judge asked who had offered the RM100,000 payment to the two men. Azilah’s declaration identifies Najib’s then-chief of staff, Musa Safri, as the person who dispatched the two policemen to pick up Altantuya and two companions, who mercifully weren’t around when the two murderers abducted Altantuya, or presumably they would have died with her. Musa was never questioned about the matter, nor was Najib. 

Abdul Razak Baginda, Najib’s close friend, was absolved and dismissed without ever having to present a defense. Azilah is seeking a new trial, which would allow the federal court to hear the full evidence on the case, and to examine key facts were suppressed during court hearings at the High Court and Court of Appeal. 

And, despite Najib’s indignant denials of complicity, there is another hand grenade waiting for him in the form of Sirul Azhar Umar, who has been sitting for several years in an Australian immigration facility after having fled Malaysia during a brief period when he was freed on appeal in an equally suspicious appellate court action. Sirul has repeatedly offered to tell all if he can be extradited back to Malaysia and given clemency. 

Despite indignant denials at the time, Altantuya appears to have had inside knowledge of events in France when Razak Baginda and Najib visited to deal with matters surrounding the purchase of the Scorpene submarines from the French contractor DCN. Razak Baginda reportedly toured Europe in a Ferrari sports car with Altantuya as his companion after visiting the defense plant.

On Feb. 3, 2009, Sirul pleaded with the court not to sentence him to death, describing himself as “a black sheep that has to be sacrificed” to protect unnamed people. “I have no reason to cause hurt, what’s more to take the life of the victim in such a cruel manner …. I appeal to the court, which has the powers to determine if I live or die, not to sentence me so as to fulfill others’ plans for me.”

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