Murder of Mongolian model: Just like a Hollywood thriller

Murder of Mongolian model: Just like a Hollywood thriller
Azilah Hadri, chief inspector and Sirul Azhar, corporal, suspects in the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibu, arrive at Shah Alam High Court on June 23, 2014.

Malaysia's courts have reinstated the death sentences of two police officers convicted of murdering Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006. Here is a look back at the sensational, twist-filled case.

"When she saw I had a gun, she begged me to spare her, saying she was pregnant.

"My (commanding officer) then grabbed her and threw her on the ground. I immediately shot the left side of her face.

"Then (my commanding officer) took 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.

"Then we carried her body into the woods. (He) wrapped explosives around her legs, abdomen and head, and we blew her up."

This could easily be a scene from a Hollywood movie, but it is not.

It is the chilling description of what happened to Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu in October 2006.

This confession by one of her killers, former corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, 43, was in a police report dated November 2006, according to French newspaper Liberation.

Sirul later recanted, saying it had been made under duress.

Sirul and former Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, 38, both members of the police's elite Special Action Forces unit, were sentenced to death in 2009. They were freed on appeal in 2013.

On Tuesday, Malaysia's apex Federal Court upheld the death sentences. Azilah was present in court, but the whereabouts of Sirul is unknown.

The sentencing in most cases should have concluded the matter, but not this one, where it is just another twist in a case that has all the elements of a thriller - sex, blackmail, murder, scandal and intrigue.

Ms Altantuya met her lover, Mr Abdul Razak Baginda, a prominent political analyst, in Hong Kong in 2004.

He was a close aide of then-defence minister and now Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Mr Abdul Razak was charged with abetting her murder but was acquitted.

Their relationship started when Ms Altantuya helped Mr Abdul Razak with Russian translation work.

In an interview with The New Paper in July 2007, her cousin, Ms Burmaa Oyunchimeg, described her cousin's relationship with Mr Abdul Razak as "so close, like boyfriend and girlfriend".

She said the couple holidayed in France, Italy, South Africa and Greece.She said Mr Abdul Razak showered her cousin with expensive gifts like jewellery, clothes and bags.

But the affair soured some time in 2006.

Ms Burmaa said Ms Altantuya was in Hong Kong when she heard that Mr Abdul Razak did not want to see her again.

"She said there was a little problem and she would sort it out ," said Ms Burmaa, adding that her cousin went to Malaysia soon after.

In Kuala Lumpur, a month before she went missing in October 2006, Ms Altantuya hired a private investigator, Mr Ang Chong Beng, to track Mr Abdul Razak, whom she referred to as her husband.

Mr Ang told the court during Mr Abdul Razak's trial in 2007 that he found Mr Abdul Razak's Kuala Lumpur address and took Ms Altantuya there a few days before she went missing.

He added that she was angry that Mr Abdul Razak had refused to meet her.

Letters she purportedly wrote to the authorities but were never posted were presented during Mr Abdul Razak's trial and they revealed a darker side to her visit: blackmail.

Ms Altantuya wrote: "Yes, maybe I did mistake (sic) to bother him to blackmail him, but if he didn't promise to me (sic) I would never come from far away to Malaysia."

Mr Ang had earlier testified that she had demanded US$500,000 ($770,000 in 2006), failing which she would "reveal everything" to Mr Abdul Razak's wife, daughter and the world.

She also alluded to the fact that she may be killed. The letters were undated and unsigned.

Then, some time between 10pm on Oct 19, 2006, and 1am on Oct 20, 2006, she was killed and her body was blown up with military-grade explosives in a forest in Shah Alam, Selangor.

FRAMED?

Her remains, scattered around the area, were found a week later.

Azilah and Sirul, who were both part of Mr Najib's security detail, were arrested and charged on Nov 15. Both men claimed they were framed.

Mr Abdul Razak was charged a day later.

There were more surprises.

In 2008, while Mr Abdul Razak was still on trial, private investigator Mr Balasubramaniam Perumal dropped a bombshell.

He said he was told by his client, Mr Abdul Razak, that Mr Najib had had sex with Ms Altantuya.

He made the statement with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at press conference. He withdrew his statement the next day, saying it was untrue and that he had made it under duress, after which he promptly disappeared.

He was believed to be have left for India. But his comments had already done their damage, forcing Mr Najib to swear at a mosque on two occasions that he did not know Ms Altantuya.

Mr Balasubramaniam returned in 2013 vowing to expose the truth, but he died within two weeks of a heart attack.

To make matters worse, rumours were flying around that Ms Altantuya was killed because she knew of kickbacks in a $US1 billion French submarine deal.

These allegations were reported in foreign newspapers.

Mr Najib had to, once again, state that there was no corruption in the deal.

Mr Abdul Razak was acquitted in 2008.

Azilah and Sirul were convicted of Ms Altantuya's murder and were sentenced to death by the High Court in 2009.

But in August 2013, the Court of Appeal overturned the case against the two former police officers and set them free.

On Tuesday, in yet another twist, Malaysia's highest court overturned the verdict and sentenced both men to death.

Stay tuned for more surprises as the police try to track down Sirul, who is believed to be in Australia.

Could he escape the gallows?

Malaysian authorities may have a tough time extraditing Sirul Azhar Umar from Australia.

He is believed to be there after leaving Malaysia in October.

Australia does not allow extradition if the person has been sentenced to death.

The only way extradition will be allowed is if Malaysia gives the undertaking that Sirul will not be executed, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Kuala Lumpur CID director Datuk Mohmad Salleh had earlier told Bernama that police would liaise with their Australian counterparts and would also seek Interpol's help should Sirul flee Australia.

"We will definitely seek the cooperation of the international police," he had said.

On Tuesday, Malaysia's highest court reinstated the death penalty for Sirul and Azilah Hadri for the murder of Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006. The pair's initial death sentence had been overthrown by an appeals court in 2013.


This article was first published on January 16, 2015.
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