Member of Johor royalty and victim were charged recently in a drug case
POLICE have arrested seven men in an investigation into the murder of an Estonian model on a private island - including her boyfriend, who is a member of the Johor royalty - in a case that revealed the couple had earlier been charged with possessing drugs.
Ms Regina Soosalu, 29, a freelance model, was found dead on a Pulau Rawa beach on July 1. The small coral island, said to belong to members of Johor's royal family, is about 16km off the east coast of Mersing.
Ms Soosalu had arrived for a holiday but it was unclear whether she had gone there alone. Initially presumed to have drowned, local media reported five days later that police had reclassified the case as murder when suspicious wounds were found on her body during an autopsy.
Yesterday, police confirmed that they had arrested Tengku Alang Reza Ibrahim, 28, and a friend known only as Augustine, 30, following earlier arrests of five others.
The Star said Tengku Alang had been dating Ms Soosalu since July 2012. The English-language daily said sources revealed that others taken into custody include a bartender, two boatmen, a resort manager and a man known as a "friend of Tengku Alang". All had been on Rawa island when Ms Soosalu was found dead.
The media identified Tengku Alang as the grandson of the late Tunku Muhammad Archibald Tunku Temenggong Ahmad, the first cousin of the father of the current Sultan of Johor.
Tengku Alang's father owns Alang's Rawa, one of the two resorts on the island, a popular weekend getaway for Singaporeans.
Ms Soosalu was a successful model living in Kuala Lumpur who had appeared on local fashion runways, and ads for eyewear companies and local bridal and couture fashion designer labels. Friends of Ms Soosalu said she and Tengku Alang went to Rawa regularly.
Hotel workers last saw her walking alone on the beach. Johor Criminal Investigation Department chief Hasnan Hassan was quoted by The Star yesterday as saying: "Samples from her body have since been sent to the lab for testing. Other details cannot be revealed until the tests are completed."
The English daily also reported that Tengku Alang and Ms Soosalu were charged in court two months ago with possessing 5.84g of cannabis in January.
The couple pleaded not guilty and were released on RM7,000 (S$2,740) bail.
Their lawyer Bustaman Menon Abdul Hamid Menon said the case was ongoing. Prior to his arrest, Tengku Alang had described Ms Soosalu's death as "the worst tragedy of my life".
He wrote: "Regina, my love has passed away on July 1, in the holy month of Ramadan. She is my love, my best friend and will continue to be my inspiration for the rest of my life."
But a friend of Ms Soosalu claimed that the relationship had appeared rocky of late. "Previously, we often met up but things had changed.They fought a lot in front of everyone," she was quoted by The Star as saying.
Tributes to Ms Soosalu poured in from friends on a Facebook memorial page, which has garnered more than 1,000 "likes" since it was set up on Wednesday.
Those in the fashion industry mourning her death included renowned Malaysian fashion designer Beatrice Looi. "Dear Regina, RIP (Rest in Peace)," she wrote on Facebook. "You will be missed."
Visitors to Pulau Rawa describe the tiny island as a beautiful place with clear waters.
The island is owned by members of royalty and has two resorts - Alang's Rawa and Rawa Safaris Island Resort.
Rooms in both have to be booked in advance by visitors.
Administrative executive Stephy Tan, 26, who holidayed on Pulau Rawa in February with 12 friends, said there was not much to do except kayaking, snorkelling or spending time on the beach. She said they chose the island after reading online reviews that praised the clear waters.
They booked a three-day, two-night stay at Alang's Rawa as it was the cheaper of the two resorts.
"There are fewer tourists in February," she said. "The waters are comparable to that of Pulau Redang but I will not go back there if I wanted entertainment." Pulau Redang is off Terengganu, further up the peninsula from Johor. Ms Tan said Pulau Rawa was about a 30-minute boat ride from Mersing in Johor.
The island is believed to be popular among Singaporeans and other foreigners. "If you're a party-goer, you may be disappointed," another holidaymaker, who did not want to be identified, said.
Room rates at both resorts range from RM400 (S$156) to RM850 per person per night. Alang's Rawa has 14 rooms, while Rawa Safaris has 67.
One other attraction on the island is the abundance of white doves that the place was named after.
The local term for "doves" is "rawa". Pulau Rawa has been in the news before. On May 9, 2012, four Singapore-based expatriates alleged that they were attacked by bodyguards of a Malaysian royal family while holidaying on Rawa island.
In 2005, it was reported that a group of six men, including a Johor prince, gatecrashed a Brazilian couple's wedding on the island and attacked guests with golf clubs and sharp objects.
This article was first published on July 12, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.