Time to end the long wait for justice in Altantuya case

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The death knell signaling the downfall of former Malaysian strongman Najib Razak and his government of kleptocrats was sounded precisely on October 19, 2006. Altantuya Shaariibuu was murdered on that night and her body blown to bits with military-grade explosives, in a grisly plot that bewilders the sane mind.

Altantuya was the lover of the man who has been indicted for the  Scorpene submarines corruption affair in France, Razak Baginda, who was an aide and close adviser to then defense minister and deputy prime minister Najib Razak, the recently ousted Malaysian PM.

The acquittal in October 2008 of Razak Baginda on a charge of abetting murder and the final conviction of Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar in January 2015 on murder charges by the Federal Court both proved to be unsatisfactory to the public from just about every aspect that we can think of.

Razak Baginda was acquitted by the Shah Alam High Court presided over by Justice Mohamed Zaki Mohamed Yasin based on a bail affidavit that he claimed had not been rebutted by the prosecution. Shah Alam, the capital of Selangor state, was the site of the crime.

Zaki’s appointment as the judge for the Altantuya trial was clouded with controversy. One of the most experienced judges in Malaysia, High Court Justice K N Segara, was replaced on the opening day of the trial, March 9, 2007, with Zaki, who had never presided over a criminal trial.

Earlier, there had been a circus with Razak Baginda, Sirul and Azilah all suddenly being represented by new lawyers. Later the deputy public prosecutor was replaced too, all done on the flimsiest of pretexts and excuses. According to the pre-eminent published investigator of this dreadful tragedy, E S Shankar, the trial was clearly being orchestrated.

The convictions of Azilah and Sirul raised the question of motive. Why would they kill Altantuya, whom they did not know existed until two days before they executed her? Who gave the orders? was on the tip of every tongue in Malaysia and beyond. Who provided them with the military-grade explosives PETN and RDX? Why did they blow up her body?

In recent years, Sirul, who fled to Australia in 2015 before the Federal Court verdict was announced, has claimed that it was Razak Baginda who pulled the trigger. Sirul is now an inmate at the Villawood Immigration Detention Center in Sydney. Hussein Hamid, a prominent Australia-based blogger on Malaysian affairs, has made several posts as Steadyaku47, cataloguing how there was a concerted effort by Najib, lawyers and others associated with him to prevent Sirul from being extradited to Malaysia.

How difficult would it be for a top-notch investigative team comprising police and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission officers from going to Sydney and unraveling the truth?

Under Australian law, Sirul cannot be deported or extradited to Malaysia as long as he faces the death sentence. If the Najib administration had been genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of the Altantuya assassination, it would have been a simple matter for it to get the Malaysian king to commute the death sentences of Sirul  and Azilah to life imprisonment in exchange for a truth deal. Yet three years have passed with no resolution.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, successive inspectors general of police have maintained that there is no new evidence or information to reopen the Altantuya case. These facts, according to E S Shankar’s investigative mind, clearly suggest that they could well be parties to a massive cover-up by Najib and his cohorts.

On the night of May 9 this year, Malaysians emerged from the tunnel and bathed in sunlight. Now there is an opportunity to deliver justice for all. In order to achieve justice that is seen to be done, Malaysia needs men and women of experience, integrity, honor and fire in their bellies.

A few days ago, the long-agonizing father of the deceased, Shaariibuu Setev, publicly pleaded for a fresh probe into this brutal tragedy.

The Malaysian populace and people the world over are now agitating for the long-overdue truth and justice. Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.

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