Sunday, March 29, 2009

Next Malaysian PM linked to murder (1)

Next Malaysian PM linked to murder (1)
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc Updated March 18, 2009 12:00 AM

Upon winning unopposed as head of his ruling UMNO party at month’s end, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak will become the new PM. Allegations of sleaze have marred his political rise. Now a fresh report in French newspaper Liberation of ties to a murdered Mongolian model threatens his career. Reprinted in two parts is the English version, “The Altantuya Case: How and Why She Was Killed”, with permission from author Arnaud Dubus. Writing from Kuala Lumpur, Ulan Bator and Paris, Dubus presents a gripping account from his investigative journalism:

Sharibu Setev is bitter, disappointed — but determined. Seated at an Ulan Bator hotel lobby, the 60-year-old Mongolian is ready to fight. With face hardened by suffering and harsh climate, his intense gaze tells it all. “My daughter has been murdered by Malaysians on Malaysian soil. And they did not even offer a word of apology,” states the psychology professor of the National University of Mongolia. Altantuya Sharibu was assassinated in Oct. 2006. It was a murder unlike others in a region where business conflicts or petty politics are often settled with a gun. Everything about it, starting 2002 when French-Spanish company Armaris sealed a sale of three submarines to Malaysia for a billion euros, is out of the ordinary. The “Altantuya case” has yet to reach full impact in France, Malaysia and Mongolia. The 28-year-old model’s murder was the result of a 114-million euro “commission” from Armaris to its Malaysian counterpart. This “commission,” acknowledged in Malaysia’s Parliament, triggered a chain of events that led to the slaying of Altantuya and the disappearance of several key witnesses.

A Malaysian police report, kept secret till now, reveals details of how the young member of Asian high society was killed. In the document one of the killers, agent Sirul Omar of the Malaysian Special Branch, told police investigators at a station near the murder scene: “When the Chinese woman saw me drawing a gun she begged me to spare her, saying she was pregnant. Azilah (Sirul’s commanding officer) grabbed her and [threw] her to the ground. I immediately shot the left side of her face. Azilah tore off her clothes and put them in a black plastic bag. He noticed that her hand was still moving. He ordered me to shoot again, which I did.” This is the first confirmation of the killers’ identities. “Then we carried her body into the woods. Azilah wrapped explosives around her legs, her abdomen and her head, and we exploded her.”

Revelation of this report in Liberation is the latest chapter in the saga featuring French weapons sellers, Mongolian shaman, and Malaysian pols. It is explosive not only for the Malaysian government, since deputy prime minister Najib Razak (scheduled to become Prime Minister) is suspected of having links to the case, but also because it could embarrass the DCNS, the French firm specializing in military ship-building. Armaris, which sold two Scorpène and one Agosta submarines to Malaysia in June 2002, was bought by DCNS in 2007.

With magnetic beauty and sophistication, Altantuya is reminiscent of Mata Hari. She grew up in Saint Petersburg (Russia), then studied at Beijing’s Institute of Economic Management. Besides speaking English, she is fluent in Russian, Chinese and Korean. By fate Altantuya came to meet Abdul Razak Baginda in Hong Kong in 2004. Baginda is a security expert and director of Malaysia’s Strategic Research Centre, a pro-government think tank. The two quickly became romantically involved. Altantuya, or Tuya to friends, proved to be a useful assistant, helping Baginda translate Russian to English. Rich and alluring Baginda is well known among Kuala Lumpur’s elite, notably because of his closeness to deputy prime minister and defense minister Najib Razak (he is also his security affairs adviser). He struts around the most exclusive circles, at times accompanied by his real wife. In Mar. 2005 Altantuya and Baginda departed for Europe, touring France, Germany, Italy and Portugal in his red Ferrari, staying in posh hotels and dining in the finest bistros. It was not solely for tourism: the contract for the submarine sale had been signed in 2002, but important details had yet to be settled. “We knew that Baginda was used by Najib Razak as intermediary for weapons systems deals, especially high level ones,” said a regional security affairs expert.

Najib Razak met up with the couple in Paris end of March. A photo shows the threesome in a Parisian private club. “Tuya showed me the pix. She said one of the men was her boyfriend, Abdul Razak Baginda, and the other the ‘big boss’, Najib Razak,” said Amy, Altantuya’s best friend. “I asked her if they are brothers because of the names; she said no, and that Najib Razak was the ‘prime minister’.” (Najib Razak has sworn on the Koran that he has never met Altantuya.) According to a private detective, now hiding in India, beautiful Tuya was also the occasional mistress of the deputy prime minister, whom Baginda introduced to her at the end of 2004. (Continuation on Friday)

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