Malaysia upholds death sentences for cops in 2006 murder
MALAYSIA'S highest court upheld death sentences for two police officers convicted of a Mongolian woman's murder in a sensational scandal linked to allegations of high-level corruption in the country.
Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar had been convicted of the 2006 killing of 28-year-old model and interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu, but were later acquitted.
Government critics have long alleged that the duo, members of an elite unit that guards top ministers, were scapegoats in the killing of Ms Altantuya, who was at the centre of allegations of massive kickbacks in the US$1.1-billion purchase of French Scorpene submarines in 2002.
The remains of Ms Altantuya, who was involved in negotiations for the submarines, were found in a jungle clearing near Kuala Lumpur after apparently being shot and her corpse blown up with military-grade explosives.
Adding to the intrigue, she was a lover of Abdul Razak Baginda - the man in charge of purchasing the submarines and a close associate of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was defence minister at the time of the deal. Allegations have lingered for years that she was murdered to keep her quiet about purported kickbacks to high-level Malaysian officials.
Both accused men deny killing Ms Altantuya. Sirul, 43, has previously alleged that he was being "sacrificed" to protect others.
Yesterday, the Federal Court said both men had separately led investigators to the site where the body was found, which "strengthened the case" against them.
The defence "had failed to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case", said one of the five presiding judges, Federal Court Judge Suriyadi Halim Omar.
A shocked-looking Azilah, 38, was led out of the courtroom after the decision.
Sirul did not show up in court and an arrest warrant was issued.
A source was quoted as saying that he had gone abroad, apparently to Australia, two months ago. He reportedly did not have money to return to Malaysia.
The duo were convicted in 2009 and sentenced to hang, but were released when an appeals court overturned the conviction in 2013 after raising questions over how their trial had been conducted, prompting the prosecution's appeal to the Federal Court.
The case centres on allegations that French submarine maker DCNS paid commissions of more than 114 million euros to a shell company linked to Mr Abdul Razak, who is not related to the Premier. Malaysia's opposition claims these were kickbacks. No motive for Ms Altantuya's death has been revealed.
In 2008, Mr Abdul Razak was acquitted of abetting the murder.
Cynthia Gabriel, who runs a Malaysian anti-corruption non-governmental organisation, welcomed the decision but said too many questions remain unanswered.
"For truth-seeking Malaysians, they want to know the motive for her brutal death and if anyone high up in the political leadership was also involved in the murder," she said.
In 2008, private investigator P. Balasubramaniam implicated several government officials, including Mr Najib, in the murder. He later recanted, saying he was being coerced to keep silent, and fled abroad. Mr Najib has denied any involvement.
Mr Balasubramaniam returned in 2013 vowing to expose the truth, but died within two weeks of an apparent heart attack.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK