By Hannah Beech Monday, Jul. 07, 2008
P. Balasubramaniam at a news conference in Petaling Jaya outside Kuala Lumpur on July 3
Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters
A sex case that is engrossing Malaysia's public and stirring political unrest is getting even more bizarre. No, not the scandal surrounding political opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was accused last month in a police report of sodomizing a 23-year-old male aide. This case involves Abdul Razak Baginda — a former aide to Anwar's political nemesis, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak — who is currently standing trial for abetting the murder of his Mongolian ex-lover. In October 2006, she was shot twice in the head and her body was blown up by military-grade explosives in a jungle clearing near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. Charged with actually having killed the woman are two members of the government's security forces who provided security for the country's top leaders.
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Ever since Razak was arrested, Deputy Prime Minister Najib has denied any involvement in or knowledge of the alleged murder plot, saying he had never even met his former aide's paramour. But on July 3, Balasubramaniam Perumal — a private investigator who had been hired by Razak prior to the Mongolian's death — claimed in a sworn statement that not only had Najib met the murdered woman but that he had carried out a sexual relationship with her. The private detective's bombshell came at a news conference organized by none other than Anwar, who claims that the sodomy scandal undermining his own political future are the handiwork of Najib.
Then a day later, Balasubramaniam retracted his statement about Najib and the Mongolian. The allegation, he claimed, had been made under duress. Things got even more surreal on July 5 when the private detective and his family suddenly disappeared, according to a nephew who filed a missing-persons report. By Sunday, the Malaysian police announced they were seeking help from Interpol to find them.
All this intrigue has heightened what looks set to be a political showdown between Anwar and Najib. Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose ruling National Front coalition suffered its worst-ever showing in elections last March, has already promised to hand over the reins to Najib, although the exact timing is unclear. Meanwhile, Anwar, who was once a Deputy Prime Minister and rising star within the National Front, has vowed that the opposition will seize power by mid-September. He broke with the ruling alliance a decade ago when a power struggle with then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad descended into political farce. Anwar was sacked from the No. 2 job and slapped with sodomy and abuse of power charges. He served six years in jail before the sodomy conviction was overturned in 2004. Now, Anwar says he will be able to gather enough defectors from the ruling alliance to topple the government. If he succeeds, Anwar will become the first opposition Prime Minister in Malaysia's history.
On July 6, as the case of the missing private investigator was taking its strange turns, thousands of Malaysians gathered in a stadium near Kuala Lumpur to protest recent government-directed hikes in fuel prices and to show support for Anwar against the latest sodomy charges. Rallies are rare in Malaysia, and this one culminated in a rousing speech by Anwar, who again promised that the opposition will unseat the National Front. Whatever happens, with two sex scandals unfolding at the same time, it's sure to be a salacious summer in Malaysia.