Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak went onto Kuala Lumpur-based TV3, wholly owned by the political party he heads, to deny to presenter Hamdan Ahmir that he had ever met the late Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, murdered by two of his bodyguards in 2006.
The interview, aired on April 9 but taped rather than live apparently to avoid any embarrassments, can only be regarded as a disappointment, not only with Najib’s answers but with Hamdan’s questions, which were a series of softballs lobbed to the prime minister to give him a platform to make a case for his non-involvement.
To questions raised by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over Najib’s possible involvement, Hamdan asked this: “…We all concur that the court had decided in this case … it is past. But a criticism has surfaced from Tun Mahathir who asked who had ordered the police officers involved to kill Altantuya. It is weird because the case is over. Were you involved in this?”
Najib: This thing happened in 2008 … a long time ago. Actually, I have recited the oath, Wallahi Wabillahi Watallahi, thrice, including at a mosque in Permatang Pauh in 2008 … that I had not known Altantuya and I was not at all involved, directly or indirectly. And the police conducted an investigation. And, at that time, Pak Lah (Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi), as the prime minister, had reported, and the Inspector-General of Police had issued a statement saying that I was not involved. And there is no proof at all, whatsoever, that I had known Altantuya. None at all … no photographs, no documents, no witnesses and what not. The case went through the courts up to the Federal Court. Are we going to question the integrity of the courts which we had safeguarded for so long?
Hamdan: It is understood that you, Datuk Seri, have met with Tun Dr Mahathir on several issues. Did he ask you about the Altantuya case?
Najib: Not directly, but we did discuss it at one time. During the discussion, I noticed that he did not ask whether I was involved in the Altantuya case. And I assumed that the matter did not arise at all. When I had my discussion with Tun Dr Mahathir, I showed my respect for him. For example, although I am the prime minister, I went to his residence rather than insisting that he come to mine. Nevertheless, whatever it is that we discussed, I had to decide as the prime minister.
Hamdan: He (Tun Dr Mahathir) understood when you met him and gave an explanation but why is the matter being raised again?
Najib: He has one or two things that he wants me to do. But I have given my views on the matter…I regard this as a discussion between two individuals … it is quite healthy if there is a difference of opinion but, regardless, in the end I have to be responsible to the people and party. And most of these matters, I bring to the Cabinet and the Cabinet decides.”
The list of questions Hamdan didn’t ask is considerable. Here are some that Asia Sentinel would have asked.
1. Altantuya Shaariibuu was identified by French prosecutors as a translator in the long-drawn-out transaction in which the Malaysian Ministry of Defense bought Scorpene submarines from the French munitions company DCN. According to the French records, you were instrumental in negotiating the purchase of those submarines (with a huge kickback of EUR114.9 million to UMNO). If Altantuya was recorded by the French government as a translator, how is it that you never met?
2. Both you and Abdul Razak Baginda met in 2005 in Brest, France, with the training crews of the Scorpene submarines your defense department bought, presenting the crews with jackets in honor of their service. At the same time, Altantuya was accompanying Razak Baginda. How is it that, if you were with Razak Baginda, you failed to notice the beautiful Mongolian woman he had on his arm and who toured France in his Ferrari?
3. During the months of trial of the two murderers, why do you think no attempt was made to ascertain their motives in killing her?
4. Sirul Azhar Umar made a full confession of the killing, which he has since verified as accurate. During that confession, he was warned, in accordance with the law, that the confession could be used against him in a court of law. Why was that confession never allowed to be introduced in court despite its apparent legality?