Malaysia frees Altantuya’s murderersBy Asia Sentinel Aug 27, 2013 9:55AM UTC
The tragedy of a brutal killing compounded by courtroom farce, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Bertelsen
Malaysia’s Court of Appeal on Friday overturned an earlier conviction of two of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s former bodyguards on a charge of murdering Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu in October 2006 in a ruling that was greeted with disbelief and outrage.
The court said the two former elite police offers would go free because Najib’s chief of staff, Musa Safri, was never called to testify in a trial that was widely regarded as a cooked-up sham designed to protect Najib, then defense minister, from being interrogated or having to testify.
The prosecution can appeal the acquittal to the Federal Court, the nation’s highest tribunal. The two were scheduled to be freed on Friday.
The judgment caused predictable anger and derision in Kuala Lumpur, with hundreds of Twitter responses condemning the verdict as a farce. Cynthia Gabriel, director of the human rights NGO Suaram, issued a statement that the “shocking verdict throws open the murder of Altantuya in 2006 and questions now abound as to who killed her. It also throws open the question on how she was killed. How were the C4 explosives (used to blow up her body) obtained? It’s not like C4 can be obtained at 7-Eleven stores,” she said.
The tangled case has transfixed Malaysian high society for nearly seven years, in major part because of the extraordinary efforts by the government and prosecutors to insulate Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, and others from the case. Those efforts included promising a now-dead private detective RM5 million to shut up and get out of the country after he had implicated Najib in the case.
Altantuya was murdered execution-style on Oct.19, 2006, leaving behind a note confessing that she was attempting to blackmail Abdul Razak Baginda, a security analyst and close friend of then Defense Minister Najib, for US$500,000. Although no reason was given for the blackmail attempt, it was thought to have been in connection with the US$1 billion purchase of submarines from a French-owned defense contractor in which Razak Baginda’s wholly owned company, Perimekar Sdn Bhd, received a ?114 million commission that was characterized in a French investigation as a bribe to be steered to the United Malays National Organization.
Razak Baginda was initially charged along with the two bodyguards but in a highly unusual proceeding was freed without having to put on a defense despite having delivered a sworn statement that he had asked Najib’s office to do something about Altantuya, his jilted girlfriend, who was harassing him. He immediately decamped for the UK and for several years wasn’t seen in Malaysia.
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