Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Malaysia’s Mongolian Murder Mystery Continues

By Kim Quek (Asia Sentinel) - The acquitted Abdul Razak Baginda does little to dispel suspicions over Deputy Prime Minister Najib’s involvement

There appears to be only one motive in Abdul Razak Baginda’s press conference on November 20 in the wake of his acquittal for murder in the case of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was executed in October of 2006 in a case with connections to the top of Malaysia’s power structure.

The press conference was designed to alleviate the mounting pressure on Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor, who have found themselves irretrievably entangled in the murder case.  These entanglements spring from two sources: a judicial process bruised by numerous irregularities and dubiety that are widely perceived as motivated by the desire to protect the real culprits; and the suffocation and dubious response to incriminating new evidences.

In the 40-minute press conference, Razak Baginda only delivered two solid points: one, Razak himself is innocent; and two, Najib & Rosmah are also innocent, as Razak claimed that the latter never met Altantuya, and that all allegations against them were lies.  Beyond these two assertions, Razak did not yield even one inch of facts that might have thrown some light on the numerous puzzles that have found no answers in the one year old trial. 

And since the court has already acquitted Razak of the charge, why should he bother to hold a press conference to perform the redundant act of once again declaring himself innocent, if it is not meant to help out his close friend and benefactor?  (Some view this as a quid pro quo, saying Razak deliberately cancelled a previous press conference on Nov 6 so that it could be held after the end of the allowable appeal period, which fell on Nov 14, just to make sure that the prosecutor would not appeal against his acquittal.)

But if Razak and the intended recipients of this supposed reciprocal gesture think that Razak’s declaration of Najib’s innocence is of any help, they are mistaken.


How Did Razak Know?

It was interesting to observe that when Razak was asked how he knew that Najib never met Altantuya, Razak was stunned and speechless for a moment, before he found his composure to emphatically utter: “I know …. I know”, without explaining how he knew. 

Stacked against this simple answer of “I know, I know” is of course a mountain of facts and events that point to the contrary of Razak’s claim of innocence.

The first event that strikes the mind is the mysterious disappearance of private investigator P. Balasubramaniam (Bala) after implicating Najib in the case.   On 4th July 2008, Bala disclosed an explosive affidavit revealing the existence of the alleged Najib-Altantuya-Razak triangle of relationship – in direct contradiction to Najib’s repeated vows that he never met Altantuya - in addition to furnishing other details that helped to make sense of this otherwise puzzling case.  The next day, under apparent coercion, Bala signed another affidavit retracting every paragraph in the first affidavit with links to Najib; and immediately after that he and his entire family disappeared, never to reappear until this day. 

In the first affidavit, Bala said he wanted to prevent a miscarriage of justice, as many details with links to Najib given by him to the police had been left out in the police statement and also never raised in court.  He therefore sought to appear in court to provide these missing links.  Regrettably, he never had that chance.

Upon disclosures of these two affidavits, the police promised to investigate them.  They later claimed to have located Bala and his family in a foreign country (the identity of which the police refused to divulge), and they also claimed to have taken a statement from Bala.  However, to this day, the police have remained silent on these investigations as well as the whereabouts of Bala and family.

Critical Evidence Blocked

Meanwhile, Karpal Singh, the lawyer for the family of Altantuya and the Mongolian government, applied to have Bala’s affidavit included in the trial, but was blocked by the concerted objections from all the participating players in the trial – the judge, prosecutors and defense. This instance of blockade of evidence to the trial is only one in a series of similar blockades that appear to fit into a pattern whereby critical evidence that was deemed important leads to this murder mystery was blocked, apparently to prevent the truth from surfacing. 

Important examples of these court incidences were the mysterious erasure of immigration records of Altantuya and her female companions at the material times of the crime, and the mention in court of a photo allegedly showing Najib having a meal at a round table with Altantuya and Razak.

In the latter case, Altantuya’s cousin Burmaa Oyunchimeg (called Amy) testified on 29 June 20007 that Altantuya had shown her the photo in Hong Kong when the former returned from a trip to France.  However, before Karpal Singh could lead the witness further, he was stopped by the judge, upon strong protest from the prosecutor, enjoined by defense lawyers. 

According to Amy’s testimony, the photo was taken after August 2005, and she considered it an indication that her cousin’s love affair with Razak had not ended by then.  This testimony clearly contradicted Razak’s claim that his affair with Altantuya ended in August of that year.  That brings us to the question of the reliability of his statements.


Emotional Outbursts

In fact, Razak was found wanting in honesty in his replies to questions on the two emotional outbursts – one by himself in mid-trial in February 2008 and one by his wife when he was first charged in 2006.

On Razak’s outburst in court on 20 February 2008, this is what the New Straits Times reported: Before proceedings began, Razak’s father Abdullah Malim Baginda whispered something to his son who was in the dock.  Razak’s demeanor changed and he walked back to the holding cell, turned to face his father and angrily shouted: “Shall I shout it out?”   His father pointed his finger at him and indicated no.

Then Razak loudly said “I am innocent! I am innocent!” before going into the cell.

When the trial judge adjourned proceedings for lunch, Abdullah walked up to his son and again whispered something into his ears.  Razak jumped up from his seat and in an animated way shouted : “Oh no, oh no.”  He then kicked the dock gate angrily as he walked out and banged on the lock-up door and looked terribly upset.  He was in tears.

And what was Razak’s explanation during the press conference for this outburst?  He said he was only venting his anger as he was upset with the postponement of the case.  That answer did not sound very convincing, did it?  So, what is the secret that Razak is hiding from us?

On the second outburst when he was charged in Nov 2006, his wife shouted hysterically “Why charge my husband? He does not want to be the prime minister.”  Razak explained that his wife was then under stress as she had not seen him for some time.

That certainly didn’t sound like an honest answer. A more reasonable guess is that she was angry that her husband was made the scapegoat for someone who was aspiring to be the next prime minister.  The identity of this person is so obvious that it needs no further elaboration.

Finally, with regards to Razak’s claim that allegation of Altantuya’s involvement with the submarine deal was a lie because the contract was signed in June 2002 while he first met the deceased at end 2004, my answer is this: whose words are to be believed – Bala’s or Razak’s?  If Bala told the truth, then there is no credibility gap in the two dates, as according to Bala, Altantuya was passed on from Najib to Razak, as Najib did not want her to harass him since he was then the deputy prime minister (Najib became DPM in 2004).

If Bala did not tell the truth, why wasn’t he sternly dealt with?  Why should the authorities be so fearful of him that he was forced to retract his statement, made to disappear and his affidavit barred from court?

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