December 14, 2006
THREE men will appear in Malaysia's Shah Alam High Court today in a case that has riveted the country's media and political classes.
The murderous drama involves a beautiful Mongolian model, a Muslim political analyst with friends in the highest places, and an explosive cover-up — the body was blown to bits.
Altantunya Shariibuu, a 28-year-old mother of two, was kidnapped on October 19. She was allegedly shot twice in the head, and her blown-up remains were found in forest at Shah Alam, south of Kuala Lumpur. She was identified by DNA taken from bone fragments.
Respected political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, 46, who was allegedly her lover, has pleaded not guilty to abetting murder, a charge that carries the death penalty.
The prosecution case hinges on an alleged meeting between Abdul Razak and two elite police officers at his Kuala Lumpur office the day before the kidnapping. The two officers, special taskforce Chief Inspector Azhila Hadri, 30, and Corporal Siral Azhar Umar, 35, are also charged with murder. They have not entered a plea.
Abdul Razak is a confidant of Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Najib Abdul Razak.
Although Mr Najib has not been formally implicated in the case, questions have been raised about the alleged involvement of special taskforce police and whether the apparent use of C4 explosives points to an abuse of Defence Ministry power.
Malaysia's elite has not seen anything like it since former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was falsely accused of sodomising his driver.
Unlike Mr Anwar, who was beaten up by the police chief and jailed for six years, Abdul Razak was charged and then released on health grounds in late November, on an unguaranteed bail bond. This had never been allowed before in a Malaysian murder trial, but there was no protest from prosecutors.
The victim's father, Setev Shaariibuu, travelled from Mongolia to Malaysia to seek justice for his daughter.
"This is an international case, this is a brutal murder," he told reporters after Abdul Razak was released. "It was all about releasing him, all about his family, and his background … I hope justice will be served."
Early in the case, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi promised there would be no cover-up, but the Government has since refused to comment, saying the case is before the court.
That has not stopped opposition politicians. In Parliament, Karpal Singh of the Democratic Action Party has claimed the C4 explosives could only have been found in the Defence Ministry.
"So what was the link of the Defence Ministry (with the case)?" he reportedly asked Parliament this month. "Why was Altantunya's body exploded? Was she pregnant? Are the police afraid to investigate because it involved a highly placed minister?"
Another opposition politician, Syed Husin Ali of the People's Justice Party, said: "Should the Government continue to be silent, rumours will spread even further and will eventually be accepted as the truth by the public." The trial is expected to begin next year.