As Sirul Azhar Umah finally walks a free man in Australia it is worth bearing in mind the reason why he and his fellow bodyguard and convicted murderer, Azilah Hadri, were first released from their original conviction by the Malaysian Court of Appeal in 2013.
The Appeal Court judges ruled that the highly controversial prosecution of the two men had blatantly failed to establish a motive for these two killers who had sped on the afternoon of 18th October 2006 from the house of then Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Razak, whom they were detailed to protect, to where Altantuyah was protesting on the street outside the house of Najib’s defence procurement advisor, Razak Baganda.
With the help of Azilah’s girlfriend, also a police officer, the two official bodyguards pulled the pregnant Mongolian woman off the street and into their car in front of the shocked PI Bala, a former police officer who had himself been hired to assist Baganda over the matter. Another witness was the taxi driver who had been waiting to take Altantuya back to her hotel.
The two policemen then famously drove the terrified pregnant woman to a remote area outside of KL and shot her dead. Following that, they blew her body and that of her child to pieces with C4 weapons grade explosive.
The question has always been that if they were not acting under orders then why did they do such a thing, given that both men have confirmed they had no idea who Altantuya was and no evidence has been produced to contradict that fact?
This was enough for the Appeal Court to cancel their convictions at the time, although a deluge of criticism saw that decision reversed by the Federal Court two years later.
After all, there was no denying the men had murdered Altantuya (although the latest claim by the ever changing Sirul is that he somehow dropped from the scene in its final stages and did not pull the trigger on Altantuya as he earlier confessed).
The public suspected, for example, that the men were being favoured by the appeal court ruling which took place in August 2013 as some kind of favour for keeping silent until Najib’s crucial re-election as prime minister was achieved in May – Najib had stepped into the role in 2008 despite his ugly entanglement with this unsavoury murder case.
Motive or no motive, the men who had pulled the trigger should be in jail, the Federal Court determined, and their death penalty was re-imposed.
Except, as everyone knows, Sirul had by then fled to Australia where he was picked up for overstaying and then incarcerated indefinitely after his criminal past was exposed. That indefinite detention has now been found unlawful by the Australian courts and Sirul was released last week and has started talking to the media.
Azilah remains on death row in Malaysia, although he too has produced damning affidavits as has Sirul to the effect that the two men were ordered by their boss Musa Safri to report to Najib for orders on the matter.
Azilah has testified (his story has yet to be judged in court) that Najib explained Altantuya was a foreign spy and needed to be dealt with – Azilah alleges at that point the then deputy PM and defence minister told him to “shoot to kill” and drew his finger across his neck.
All this evidence, testimony and much more has long been in the public domain. However, astonishingly little of it has been brought before a criminal court. Razak Baginda who was originally charged as a co-defendant to the murder was acquitted without his defence even being heard.
If the guards had no obvious motive beyond their alleged orders and admitted financial incentives (Sirul’s latest admission is that he was paid RM1 million to keep quiet whilst in detention in Australia) there were, of course, glaring motives on the part their superiors Razak Baginda and Najib who were both so caught up in the ugly proceedings and yet never brought to book.
Altantuya had made a police report in the days before she died saying she had been threatened by Baginda and that if she disappeared they should investigate him as the culprit.
After all, she had taken to standing outside his house demanding he pay her half a million dollars to help bring up the child she was bearing which she said was his. If not, said PI Bala who was a witness to the matter, she threatened to spill what she knew about the recent Scorpene submarine deal that had just been signed off in Paris by Razak together with his boss the defence minister Najib Razak.
Altantuyah had been hired as the translator on that deal and simultaneously been a lover to the two men, according to what PI Bala has said she and Baginda himself had told him.
Again, as most Malaysians now know, there was a great deal to hide about the massive multi-million euro kickbacks associated with that deal, including a €119 million ‘service contract’ entered into with a company controlled by Razak Baginda who is considered to have been Najib’s proxy in these matters.
None of this would have been something either man would wish to have Altantuya make public at any time, let alone at that moment in 2006 just as the ambitious defence minister was about to make his move to take the top job.
Covering up a massive theft is an obvious motive for murder, yet there has never been any formal investigation into why Najib allowed his bodyguards to leave his compound to abduct Altantuya. The matter was not brought up at the trial of the two men.
Nor was it discussed during those criminal proceedings how these police officers came by the C4 explosive or learnt how to use it. Although later investigations, including a thorough review of the case by lawyer Americk Sidhu, have revealed one possible explanation, which is that two military officers stayed over at Najib’s private residence the night before the murder.
All such matters were avoided by prosecutors who narrowed their enquiries to solely convict the bodyguards.
Indeed, before he suffered an unfortunate early heart attack (just before that 2013 election) PI Bala made it publicly known that he had seen texts from Najib reassuring Razak Baginda that he would get him off the hook. He also related that Razak had indicated to him in conversation that he would have been happy to pay Altantuya the money, except that a certain powerful woman had prevented it.
Had Najib’s ‘jealous’ spouse, Rosmah, intervened?
What is now impossible for Najib to deny is that when PI Bala started spouting all this information publicly, straight after the trial in 2009, two of his own brothers together with a duo of lawyers and a businessman closely associated at that time with Rosmah (Deepak Jaikishan) had cornered the ex-policman overnight in a hotel and forced him to agree to flee to India and keep silent for the next two years in return for a sum of money and safe passage for his family.
PI Bala later came back to Malaysia and started relating these events (supported by Deepak’s own testimony) on the eve of the 2013 election… at which point he suffered his fatal heart attack, just a few weeks before the country went to the polls.
Najib is now in jail as a result of his conviction for the later massive theft from 1MDB (the Scorpene submarine kickbacks have also been tried in the French courts which found that the massive 119 million euro bribe had indeed been paid via Razak Baginda to Najib to secure that contract).
His wife Rosmah has been convicted on separate major corruption charges and is awaiting jail on appeal.
The ex-PM is doing his best to get let out, both through appeals to clemency and pardons. However, grand theft is one thing. Seeking to cover it up by procuring murder is another and now at last that Sirul is free and a non-complicit government is in office, this matter must be re-opened not just through the private prosecution that successfully demanded compensation from Razak Baginda, but by official channels.
Baginda has testified that Azilah had previously boasted to him (after Musa Safri had initially despatched him over from Najib’s detail to discuss the problem of removing Altantuya from outside his house) that he was well used to disposing of people and that he would be willing to kill Altantuya, which Baginda claims he protested was not necessary.
It is one thing to commit the largest series of thefts in recorded history and another to commit murder to cover them up. If Najib was indeed involved in telling his bodyguards they needed to kill Altantuya as a spy, that should put paid to such discussions about any such release.