May 19, 2018 / 8:46 AM / 6 months ago

Malaysian drama deepens with talk of reopening Mongolian model murder case

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The potential reopening of a probe into the murder 12 years ago of a Mongolian model could spell more trouble for former Malaysian premier Najib Razak, as the new government pressed ahead with investigations into alleged corruption.

A Malaysian police officer pushes a trolley during a raid of three apartments in a condominum owned by former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s family, in Kuala Lumpur, May 17, 2018, in this photo taken by The Straits Times. Picture taken May 17, 2018. Ariffin Jamar/The Straits Times via REUTERS

On Saturday, Mongolia’s president requested Malaysia’s new leaders to find justice for the dead woman, Altantuya Shaariibu, while a fugitive policeman convicted of the crime said he would cooperate with any new probe if he was given a full pardon.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has already barred Najib from leaving Malaysia after surprisingly defeating his one-time protege in an election on May 9.

The new government is seeking answers to how billions of dollars disappeared from a state fund that Najib founded, and its anti-graft agency has asked the ex-premier, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing, to make a statement at its headquarters on Tuesday.

In the case of the murdered Mongolian model, two policemen from Najib’s security detail were convicted, and have death sentences hanging over them, but the question of who ordered them to kill 28-year-old Altantuya has never been answered.

While released on bail during an appeal one of those officers fled to Australia.

Speaking from an immigration detention centre, where he has been held since 2015 for overstaying his visa, Sirul Azhar Umar told news portal Malaysiakini that he would help any move by the government to resurrect the case so long as he walked free.

“Hence, I am willing to assist the new government to tell what actually transpired provided that the government grants me full pardon,” he was quoted as saying.

Najib, who was deputy prime minister and defence minister at the time of the murder, has denied knowing Altantuya or playing any role in her death, but the mystery has haunted his political career. Calls by Reuters to Najib’s spokesman for comment on the latest developments went unanswered.

His relative and one-time close associate, Abdul Razak Baginda, a defence consultant and political analyst who was said to have been the dead woman’s lover, had been charged with abetting the murder but was acquitted in 2008.

Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa’s call for justice was made in a congratulatory message to the 92-year-old Mahathir.

“As president of Mongolia, I pay special attention to the aggravated crime, that on October 18, 2006, a citizen of Mongolia and mother of two children, Shaariibuu Altantuya, was murdered in Malaysia,” he said in the letter to Mahathir that was also posted on his office’s website.

ANWAR ADVOCATES NEW CHARGES

Mahathir, asked on Monday whether he would consider commuting Sirul’s death sentence, said: “We cannot do everything at the same time at one go.”

Anwar Ibrahim, the rival who allied with Mahathir to topple Najib, said judges’ reluctance to call key witnesses in the murder case had “made a mockery of the law”.

“The best way is to proffer a new charge and allow for a full hearing of the case,” Anwar told The Australian newspaper following his own release from prison earlier this week after a royal pardon quashed a politically-motivated sodomy conviction.

In his interview with Malaysiakini, Sirul thanked Anwar “for calling for a fresh trial”.

Civil society groups have alleged Altantuya’s murder was linked to her role as an interpreter and associate of Najib’s adviser, Abdul Razak Baginda, during Malaysia’s negotiations to buy two submarines from French shipbuilding giant DCNS in 2002. Najib has denied allegations of links to Altantuya or graft during the deal.

LUXURY HANDBAGS, CASH

On Saturday, Najib and his wife hit out at the media and police, after investigators seeking evidence of corruption were filmed seizing box loads of jewelry, luxury handbags and cash.

Items seized by police from Najib’s residence and other locations linked to the couple included Birkin handbags from French designer firm Hermes, some costing more than a sports car. Dozens of the luxury bags were filled with cash and jewelry.

Ousted Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Najib’s lawyer, Harpal Singh Grewal, told reporters waiting outside the house that the former prime minister and his family were “really very unhappy” that police had confiscated clothes and shoes belonging to his children.

“No attempt was made to verify whether these dresses, shoes, baby clothes and all had anything to do with the investigations which are ongoing,” he said.

His wife, Rosmah Mansor, whose lavish taste has made a her a focus for anger, also issued a statement through her lawyers calling on law enforcement agencies to avoid “feeding social media trolls” and a “premature public trial”.

Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in KUALA LUMPUR and Munkhchimeg Davaasharav in ULAANBAATAR; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Andrew Bolton

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