The discovery of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu’s remains, soon after her murder in October 2006, reverberated around the world.
If the manner of her death — she had been shot and blown up with C-4 explosives in a ditch within a forested area in Shah Alam near Kuala Lumpur — was not sensational enough, her link to Najib Abdul Razak, the present Prime Minister of Malaysia, certainly was. The twists and turns in the case have rivaled the plots of the best Hollywood thrillers.
The slaying remains in the world’s consciousness in part due to inexplicable legal anomalies during the murder trials and also the story’s links to countries such as Mongolia, France and Australia, making it an international murder-mystery.
A civil suit initiated by Shaariibuu’s father to obtain RM100 million in damages is expected to begin next year in Malaysia, keeping the story on the world’s radar into the tenth anniversary of her killing.
The following is an interview with E. S. Shankar, the author of Murdered in Malaysia: The Altantuya Story, the first book on the subject matter. The book is published in the e-book format by Sarawak Report, the exposé website now blocked in Malaysia. Since the book’s release a month ago, several thousand copies of the book have been sold.
Q: What motivated you to write the book?
Shankar: No one should be allowed to get away with murder. There is also the bizarre fact that Altantuya's body was blown to bits by C-4 explosives which suggests a really dark motive.
Then, right from the beginning, the Attorney-General ignored the question of motive. This clearly indicates an establishment cover up. Couple that with the changing of judges, prosecutors and lawyers before the trial proper commenced at the High Court; how a key witness, Private Investigator Bala was coerced into recanting his original Statutory Declaration and hounded out of the country; and and the open admission by a businessman and close associate, Deepak (Jaikishan), that PM Najib and his wife Rosmah were involved in the cover-up.
All this means that justice itself is on trial in Malaysia.
Malaysia will slide into fourth-world pariah status if all those involved in Altantuya's murder are not brought to book. The rule of law must not be allowed to be selectively applied in Malaysia. Truth and justice must prevail.
Q: This is an ongoing story. One of the convicted murderers, Sirul Azhar, is in a detention centre in Australia and the subject of much intrigue as the world waits to hear if he will reveal who gave him the order to kill Altantuya, with whom he had no previous links. Why have you not waited longer to release your book?
Shankar: The Inspector General of Police in Malaysia has publicly stated that he will not re-open the Altantuya murder case. In the Al Jazeera English exposé, it was revealed that 'Frank', an Australian relative of Sirul, told them Sirul had confessed that it was Abdul Razak Baginda (former political analyst and close associate of Najib) who had pulled the trigger of the gun that was used to kill Altantuya. Instead of pulling out all the stops and investigating this new evidence, the IGP wants to track down the Al Jazeera reporter and bring her in to face some ridiculously trumped-up charges that can only be framed in the police state of Malaysia!
This is the mindset of the authorities and the IGP here. They will go after whistleblowers and the press instead of doing their job. It's obvious to me that a massive cover-up has taken place and the IGP and AG are involved deeply in it.
Whatever Sirul says, there will only be inaction in Malaysia. I also believe that Sirul is using his safe position in Australia to bargain for money, millions of dollars. Sirul is also being advised by his lawyers and ‘UMNO advisers’ to keep his mouth shut tight.
So, waiting any longer to release my book would have served no purpose. Sirul either does not know who gave the orders to kill Altantuya or he will not talk and lose his only chance to become a multi-millionaire.
This is possible when a country suffers from endemic corruption. It is possible in a country like Malaysia where a prime minister like Najib can blatantly lie that the source of RM2.6 billion deposited in his personal bank account was a "donation from Arab friends" and escape prosecution, and what more, receive support from Cabinet and party members.
Q: In a story filled with extraordinary events, perhaps the most incredulous is that through several trials in open court, the question central on everyone's minds was not asked by the prosecution, the defense, nor the judges — who gave Sirul and Azilah Hadri, Najib’s former bodyguards, the order to terminate Altantuya. How is this possible?
Shankar: Judges, the AG, lawyers and enforcement agency heads and top officers have all shown themselves to be spineless in protecting the citizens against a very corrupt Executive, and have been bought over by money, privileges, and superbly paid secure positions.
Q: Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, seems to have prevented an investigation into his own links to Altantuya's murder by using the unusual step of proclaiming his innocence by swearing on the Quran — using what you feel are carefully chosen words. Of what legal standing is such an action in Malaysia and why is this option not accorded to others accused of offences?
Shankar: There is no legal basis whatsoever for anyone in Malaysia to avoid prosecution for murder by swearing on the Quran. The Constitution cannot be clearer that the secular laws of the country take precedence over any provision in the syariah laws, which have limited application to Muslims only. So, Najib is not pulling the wool over anybody's eyes with his desperate gimmick of swearing on the Quran.
Q: Your book, at 900-plus pages, is voluminous. How did you go about researching it? Were there obstacles in obtaining information?
Shankar: I had previously written extensively about the Altantuya murder in my blog. So, my acquired knowledge of this case was fairly extensive before I started writing the book in June 2014. The rest of the information was obtained by sifting through reports posted by online news portals and blogs available to anyone who is interested in the background and details of the case.
The only problem I ran into was when I wanted court transcripts and documents from the Shah Alam Court Registry. I was told by an official there that I had to write in personally to gain permission from the relevant Director-General. I decided not to pursue this avenue so as not to alert the government of Malaysia about my book project.
Q: The Malaysian government has gone after Al Jazeera and its Australian reporter for their recent video feature on the Altantuya murder, which purports to present new information. The government has also applied for Interpol arrest warrants for the publisher of your book Sarawak Report's Clare Rewcastle Brown, albeit for reasons unconnected to your book. Why do you think the government has not responded to your book and the allegations contained within it?
Shankar: Not a single word about the publication of my e-book has been featured by any of the mainsteam media or even the main online news portals or even pro-opposition blogs. Not a single comment has been made at my blog; 99.99% of my friends on Facebook have declined to comment or support.
In July 2015, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission banned Sarawak Report, and apparently, it is now a crime for anyone to quote or refer to reports from it in their tweets, blogs, writings or speeches. So, Malaysians have been cowed by these kinds of draconian interpretations of the law and actions by the government. They have even been threatened by the IGP for clicking on the 'Like' button on Facebook. Hundreds have been arrested under the Sedition Act and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 for vague charges such as 'undermining parliamentary democracy' and the like. So, most Malaysians live in a climate of fear, waiting for that 'other person' to fight for their rights.
Certainly, one cannot expect the media, all controlled by various government parties, to announce anything about the Altantuya case that would be detrimental to PM Najib or his coalition government. But, you can rest assured that the government is fully aware of my book, and were I to return to Malaysia tomorrow, I would be arrested and my passport, impounded.
Q: Many on Sarawak Report's Facebook page and Twitter feed have asked you to leave Malaysia for you own safety. You have after all, accused the Prime Minister of Malaysia of having blood on his hands. Do you have reasons to be fearful?
Shankar: Absolutely! I fear for my safety and life. Only the government has access to C-4 explosives! So, I am now abroad. As (former Deputy-Prime Minister) Anwar Ibrahim has found out, you can't do much while behind bars. So, I will continue exposing injustice in Malaysia from abroad.
Q: Your previous book, Tiger Isle—A Government of Thieves, which also dealt with corruption and cover up in a fictitious Asian country, left few in doubt that Malaysia was the country being referenced. Do you think you are done with the themes of corruption, abuse of power, and Malaysia as you move forward as a writer?
Shankar: No. What I have written about is only the tip of the iceberg. With the 1MDB* and PPFI^ financial scandals and fraud cooked-up by Najib and his crooked cabal of top civil servants, party members and cronies, we have to add at least another RM76 billion to the hundreds of billions of ringgit that Malaysia's government of thieves has fleeced from public coffers. So, the story-telling is not over yet.
Of course, as a writer, I dream of writing that international best-seller work of fiction. So, there are other themes and plots I wish to explore. But at the moment, I am preoccupied with seeing Najib, his wife and band of crooked politicians and civil servants behind bars, and ensuring they make maximum restitution of their ill-begotten gains to the country.
* 1Malaysia Development Berhad is a Government-owned strategic fund initiated by Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak in 2009. Both 1MDB and Razak are currently embroiled in controversy following the declaration that 1MDB was RM42b in debt and allegations that US$700m of funds from IMDB had been transferred into bank accounts held by Razak.
^ Pembinaan PFI Sdn Bhd is a little-known company owned by the Malaysian Finance Ministry which recently announced outstanding debts of RM27b.
This exclusive interview was first published at maskedcrusader.blogpost.sg