Malaysian justice put on
trial By Baradan Kuppusamy
KUALA LUMPUR - A decade after Malaysia's
criminal-justice system earned condemnation for
allegedly bending the rules to jail a prominent
politician who had run afoul of the prime
minister, now it is back in the dock and under
attack for allegedly stretching the rules in a
sensational murder case involving top political
Opposition lawmakers and
independent observers are questioning the police
investigation into a high-profile murder, the
prosecution, and the independence of judges.
At issue is the gruesome murder of
28-year-old Mongolian beauty queen Altantuya
Shaariibuu, who was abducted from outside the home
of the accused killer, Abdul Razak Baginda. one of
the country's best-known political scientists,
Baginda is also a top political adviser to Najib
Razak, Malaysia's powerful deputy prime minister,
and is viewed by many as a potential prime
Altantuya was abducted by two
police officers of an elite unit last October 18,
according to public prosecutors' opening
statements when the trial began last month. The
next day, prosecutors said, Altantuya was killed
and her body blasted to pieces with C4 explosives
in an apparent attempt to eliminate all evidence
of the crime.
According to witness
testimony, all records of Altantuya's entry and
presence in Malaysia were erased from the
computers of the Immigration Department.
Opposition lawmakers charged that such an erasure
is impossible without top-level intervention and
are pressing for more information on what they
have referred to as "anomalies" in the official
In earlier court
affidavits, Baginda admitted he had an affair with
Altantuya, who was reportedly fluent in French,
Russian and Chinese, and was variously referred to
as a part-time model and translator. Baginda said
he ended the affair, but Altantuya harassed him
for money and finally came to Malaysia last
October to blackmail him by threatening to inform
his wife and teenage daughter of the affair.
Witnesses said Altantuya asked for US$500,000 to
Baginda also has admitted
contacting Najib's aide-de-camp and being
introduced to two police officers whom he
apparently asked for help in resolving his problem
with his ex-mistress. "I never asked them to kill
her," Baginda said in the affidavit.
Baginda and two members of the elite
Special Forces Command, which provide security to
government VIPs, including Najib, whose name has
persistently hovered over the crime, are on trial.
The investigation has been in the national
headlines since November.
are being sharply criticized by the political
opposition, who have made allegations of a
"The entire conduct
of the prosecution [was] not meant to seek and
find the truth, to catch the culprits who
perpetrated the crime, but at all stages, to
protect powerful individuals from being implicated
in any way," said government critic and former
premier Anwar Ibrahim.
"The many twists
and turns in the case have raised doubts about the
integrity of the prosecution and independence of
the judges," he said. "It is sickening, it is
pathetic, to say the least."
Anwar, those twists include the sudden removal of
the presiding judge before the trial started
without a plausible explanation to the lawyers.
The head of the prosecution team was also changed
at the eleventh hour and the reason given - the
prosecution leader was seen playing badminton with
the judge - was rejected by prominent lawyers.
Finally, defense lawyers for the three accused
keep changing, with one walking out on the first
day of the trial because of unnamed "third
parties" who he alleged were interfering in his
The last time the prosecution and
judiciary were this openly criticized was in 1998,
when Anwar was on trial for corruption and sexual
misconduct after a falling-out with then-prime
minister Mahathir Mohamad. The Anwar trial, which
was widely condemned as a farce, including among
international legal experts, severely undermined
the Mahathir administration - and it is believed
the current trial may have similar consequences
for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.
Critics say the trial has already
undermined public confidence in Abdullah's
reformist credentials, crucially when general
elections are scheduled to be held within the next
Anwar and other opposition
politicians allege that there are "credible
speculations" that the murder could be connected
to internal government rifts over a billion-dollar
purchase of two Scorpene submarines from France in
2002. In his capacity as defense minister, Najib
negotiated the controversial deal, which
opposition politicians, including Anwar, allege
was rife with irregularities.
government must carry out a complete review of the
submarine purchase and how politically connected
individuals profited from it," said Lim Guan Eng,
secretary general of the opposition Democratic
Action Party. "The public is losing confidence."
Answering the various allegations, Najib's
office issued a brief statement denying any links
between Najib and the murdered Altantuya. "I am
innocent ... Allah is my witness," Najib said in
the statement. Public doubts intensified, however,
after witness testimony last week alleging that
the victim had shown her a photograph of herself,
Baginda, Najib and "others" having lunch in a
Defense lawyers and
prosecutors stopped the witness from testifying
further. Nor did the court ask the witness, a
cousin of the murdered woman, to produce the
photograph - a serious lapse in standard legal
procedures, according to a senior criminal lawyer
following the case, who requested anonymity.
"Public confidence is in tatters and only
a complete and in-depth probe into all the
circumstances in this murder will satisfy the
public," said prominent human-rights lawyer
Sivarasah Rasiah. "The world too is watching."