Altantuya murder case: A retrial would have answered questions, says Zaid

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - The Court of Appeal judges should have asked for a retrial in the murder case of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu instead of acquitting Kpl Sirul Azhar Umar and C/Insp Azilah Hadri, says former minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

Zaid, who was formerly in charge of the legal portfolio, tweeted: "I am disappointed with the Court of Appeal judges. Not for acquittal but for failing to order a retrial #fb."

"In the interest of justice, a balanced retrial would have been appropriate. Now, it's not possible," said Zaid when contacted by The Star.

He said if a retrial was ordered, it would have allowed both sides to take another look at the case as "witnesses can be called again, to get justice".

"I think the decision to acquit those two puts an end to this case altogether. Under the double jeopardy law, they can't be tried for the same charges again," he said.

According to Zaid, the Court of Appeal in England could order a retrial as the law sets out certain circumstances allowing it.

"I believe the rules in Malaysia are the same. There should not be an acquittal when something seems to suggest that it's not right - in our case, there was a prior conviction," said the former de facto law minister.

He said the Court of Appeal itself had pointed out several flaws in the earlier trial - unclear evidence, material discrepancies and the failure to call key witnesses.

"Obviously, the prosecutor didn't do a proper job. At the same time, I think there was enough evidence to suggest the two were involved in some way. Otherwise, the first judge wouldn't have convicted them," said Zaid.

Veteran lawyer Karpal Singh said it needed to be shown that someone is responsible for Altantuya's death.

Karpal is acting for her family in a RM100 million (S$38.5 million) civil suit against the Government and the three men acquitted of Altantuya's murder, in an effort to prove them liable for her death, even if they were acquitted of the criminal charge.

Meanwhile, it was reported that Altantuya's father Setev Shaariibuu had said that it was time for the Mongolian government to make a statement on the matter of his daughter's murder.

The report stated that Setev had expected the verdict and felt that he must now take the case to a higher level to seek justice for his daughter, as conveyed through his Mongolian lawyer Munkhsaruul Mijiddorj.

Bar Council president Christopher Leong said the written grounds of judgment of the Court of Appeal needed to be read carefully before a complete comment could be provided.

"Nevertheless, it appears that the Court of Appeal's further findings show that there were inconsistencies in the testimonies by the police personnel witnesses.

"There were also gaps in the prosecution's case, with respect to the slippers alleged to have Altantuya's bloodstains and the spent bullet, both found in Sirul Azhar's car, and the failure by the prosecution to call or offer for cross-examination a material witness," he said.

Leong added that some might find it a serious gap between the expectations of the people for law and order and accountability, and the ability of the authorities to investigate and bring criminals to account for their crimes.

"At the moment, it appears that no one is to be held accountable for Altantuya's murder. This case has left many questions unanswered, and it begs the further question of 'Who does one turn to for justice in Malaysia when one's child is murdered?'" he asked.

Criminal lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said the defence in the Altantuya murder case had raised valid legal issues that warranted serious consideration from the Court of Appeal and the acquittal did not come as a surprise.

"It is the court's duty to hear the evidence and decide based on law and procedure. If the Court of Appeal is satisfied that the lower court has erred, the higher court has no choice but to allow the appeal and acquit.

"In some cases, there will be a retrial but that depends on the circumstances of the case," he said.