2007/06/11

Altantuya Trial Deferred Again

We always encounter some kind of web hosting problem in Ulaanbaatar. Web site is down again. So, I decided to post this here.

Altantuya Trial Deferred Again

IN yet another delay, a Malaysian court postponed on Monday the trial of a prominent political analyst and arms dealer, Abdul Razak Baginda, reported to be a close associate of the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, on charges of involvement in the murder of Sh.Altantuya, 28. The next hearing has been fixed for June 18.

The Malaysian Attorney General, Abdul Gani Patail, had replaced the prosecutors of the case on Sunday, and when the court sat on Monday, the new prosecution team immediately asked for a postponement, saying they had been handed the case only the day before. The new leader of the prosecution team, Tun Majid Tun Hamzah, told the court he did not know why he had suddenly been handed a file containing more than 100 investigation reports.

“I was only informed of this yesterday, in the evening when I was on my way home,” he said, asking for one month to prepare his brief. “It’s beyond me. I simply cannot prosecute this case at such short notice,” he told the judge, who agreed to only a two-week postponement.

The investigations into the murder so far have raised more questions than they have answered for people both in Mongolia and Malaysia. The Attorney General would only say that he installed the new team to ensure a “fair trial for all parties”.

A visibly rattled S.Shaariibuu, father of the brutally slain woman, said the postponement had further eroded his confidence in the official Malaysian handling of the case. He was in the courtroom on Monday along with his human rights lawyer and an interpreter. Wearing a bright yellow shirt and a short brown jacket, and in tinted glasses, the disconsolate father in search of truth and justice said they might return to Ulaanbaatar and come back to Malaysia for the next hearing.

In a statement released through the Mongolian Honorary Consul in Malaysia, Shaariibuu said, “I wanted to look the witnesses in the eye, to personally hear them speak. I wanted to hear their stories to satisfy my need to know what really happened.”

The postponement was widely covered in the major Mongolian-language newspapers on Tuesday. The mood among the general readers was one of bafflement and incomprehension. It also drew sharp protests from the Government of Mongolia, the family of the victim, and Mongolian lawyers following the case.

The Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement on the trial on May 21. It said, “The Mongolian people, the world community, and international and regional media are paying particular attention to this case. The Government of Mongolia continues to take all necessary measures in accordance with international law to protect the legitimate interests and the rights of its nationals. We do hope the court procedures will be fair and free from political influence.”

The Government also sent a team to Malaysia, including representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to observe the trial, but no official statement was released after the trial was postponed.

In November 2006, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a verbal note to its counterpart in Malaysia expressing its deepest concern over the brutal murder, and demanding extensive investigation and fair legal procedures. In December 2006, the Mongolia-Malaysia parliamentary group of the State Great Hural (Parliament) of Mongolia made an appeal to members of the Malaysian Parliament to see that due process of law was followed in the police investigation and the trial remained free from political pressure, as there was talk of influential political persons allegedly being involved. On December 8, 2006, the Prime Minister of Mongolia, M.Enkhbold, sent to the Prime Minister of Malaysia a letter expressing his honest hope for a fair investigation followed by unbiased prosecution and just punishment for the murderers and their accomplices.

The National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia addressed a letter to the National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia requesting it “to make a contribution to solving this horrible crime, to beginning proceedings against ‘bounty hunters’ and to bringing the guilty to justice”.

Mongolia has no embassy in Malaysia, its affairs being run by a honorary consulate.

The Singapore Straits Times reported on June 2 that the murder trial had become a “political show”. Echoing this, a retired lawyer from Singapore said in his email to the UB Post on Tuesday, “Too much politics is involved. I think this is a political case. I hope your Government will do something... Our thoughts and hearts are with the Altantuya family.”

Opposition politicians in Malaysia have also noticed political undercurrents in the trial proceedings. Former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, who leads the opposition forces, said the present postponement was “unprofessional and irresponsible. Malaysia has to understand that the case puts the Malaysian judiciary on trial too.”

Altantuya was shot twice in the head and her body then blown up. Military C4 explosives had been fastened to her body which was found in a jungle outside the Malaysian capital last October.

Abdul Razak Baginda has been charged with abetting the murder while two policemen have been charged with committing it. All three would receive the death sentence if they are convicted. Apart from Razak’s reported close ties with the Malaysian Deputy Premier the two police officers, significantly enough, had belonged to the elite Special Operations Force which guards Malaysia’s VIPs, and had indeed been assigned to the Deputy Premier’s office. Baginda heads a think-tank linked to him. It is unclear whether Najib Razak, the Deputy Premier, was ever questioned during the investigation.

Karpal Singh, who is holding a watching brief for the victim’s family as well as the Mongolian Government, has also not ruled out political considerations creeping into the trial.

The Malaysian Government last year purchased two submarines from France in a deal costing nearly 4.6 billion in Malaysia Ringgit or something like US$ 1.3 billion. Altantuya had reportedly been hired by Baginda as an interpreter during negotiations for the deal. It has also been reported in the Malaysian media that its Defence Ministry paid a relatively unknown Malaysian private company US$100 million as a commission for a multi-billion deal involving submarines.
The company, Perimekar, is co-owned by Baginda.

Altantuya was raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, and educated in Beijing. She could speak four languages fluently. She worked as a freelance interpreter and translator for Baginda. Details of Altantuya’s entry into Malaysia are reported to have been erased from Malaysian immigration records.

The victim’s family filed on Monday a RM100 million (US$29 million) civil suit against the three accused and the Malaysian Government for causing them mental shock and trauma.

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