Nawawi Mohamad, Hornbill Unleashed
Really, even Baginda’s worst enemies can’t imagine him having the nerve or capability to convince Najib, who was then the Defence Minister and being groomed to take over the premiership, into taking part in what was basically a huge money-making scam.
Not unless, Najib himself wanted to be persuaded or perhaps even suggested such a scheme for Baginda to research and execute!
What about Altantuya then? Could Baginda have persuaded Najib into ‘lending’ him two former bodyguards to kill off the beautiful but pesky self-confessed blackmailer, and then bombing her body with military-grade C4 explosives to prevent identification? Hard to say and only Altantuya’s killers will know. The problem is they are not speaking. Or perhaps they are not ready to blow the whistle just yet.
One thing for sure. Both Najib and Baginda are ‘soft’ men – used to fine living and chasing after their own pleasures with a selfish determination. Can ‘soft’ men show ruthless streaks when their lifestyles are threatened? Again, hard to say.
After all, in the 1970s, when Najib took over as the Pekan MP after his father’s untimely demise, did any Malaysian ever think the gangly and shy young man would ever be capable of ordering the police to brutalize civilian protesters taking part in the recent Bersih rally for clean polls? Or did anyone ever think he would be capable of making a speech, vowing to bathe his ‘keris’ (sword) with Chinese blood just before Mahathir Mohamad’s infamous Ops Lalang swoop on dissidents and opposition leaders?
But who is Razak Baginda to Najib, how strong was his influence? Actually, Baginda was not really influential and did not have any established connections to either Najib or the top UMNO leaders at all. He was neither a big time businessman nor an underworld kingpin. The two men were not related nor were they college or school buddies.
In fact, Baginda and Najib had never crossed paths until Najib became the Defence Minister in 1991 and Baginda joined the Malaysian Armed Forces Defense College as a lecturer, where he eventually rose to become the head of strategic studies. When Najib left the Defense Ministry in 1995 for the Education Ministry, their relationship grew closer. Baginda became Najib’s confidant, while his wife Mazalinda and Najib’s Rosmah too were on very cordial terms.
But make no mistake. Baginda could live without Najib, although he enjoyed being close friends with such a prominent political figure. It was Najib, who perhaps needed his friendship more. For sure, Najib would want to tap Baginda’s brains. Baginda was not only a defense strategist, he later also ran a think-tank – the Malaysian Strategic Research Institute, which was widely known to be funded by Najib and designed to further the latter’s political career.
UMNO leaders must have a lot of money to stay in power
After losing out the deputy prime minister’s post to Anwar Ibrahim, the political horizon suddenly opened up for Najib in the late 90s when former premier Mahathir Mohamad decided to oust the fast-rising Anwar from UMNO.
To repay Najib for his support during the tumultuous period when Anwar, now the Opposition Leader, was sacked and jailed, Mahathir began grooming Najib for the premiership. But it was not a one-way ticket, Najib too had to play his part in preparing for the PM’s chair. To secure the top post and ensure he could fight off challengers, Najib knew he needed money.
That is the name of the game in UMNO politics. Lots of money to buy support from the top down to the branches and all the way to the divisions, states, Youth and Women’s wings. Now – where and how to get it?
People following the Scorpenes scandal say Najib could have thought of a scheme when he was the Defence Minister and discussed it with Baginda, who given his knowledge of things military could have in turn told Najib about the shady world of international arms procurement where enormous bribes were the order of the day.
For example, it was well known that in Taiwan, French company Thales, formerly Thompson-CSF, had sold 6 DCN-built La Fayette-class ‘stealth’ frigates for an exorbitant US$2.8 billion in 1992, raising eyebrows around the world, while the Pakistan military had purchased 3 Agosta 90 B submarines in 1994 just as controversially.
Malaysia’s own purchase of the Scorpenes from DCNS was brokered by Razak Baginda. Why him, and not some high-flyer corporate baron?
Some pundits say Najib was more than aware that previous UMNO prime ministers had used cronies and proxies to front their money-making schemes. But ‘stars’ and corporate captains could sometimes be risky and having a trusted confidant like Baginda manage the money-flows might have seemed a more ideal way to Najib. If the allegations against Najib are true, surely he would want to control the funds and ensure these were always within his reach.
The Scorpenes deal is believed to have been on the table since former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin’s time but was frozen after Daim fell out with Mahathir. When Najib returned to the Defense ministry, it is believed Mahathir agreed to let him revive the transaction. And so like two schoolboys, Najib and Baginda allegedly plotted and schemed over how to benefit from such a large procurement. Even the razor-sharp Rosmah did not know of it at the beginning, or so the speculation goes.
As for Altantuya, she basically had no special skills and was not really a good translator even. She was never part of the scheme – just a very pretty face and a sexual diversion for both men. Due to her travels with Baginda, she came to know enough of the Scorpenes transaction to later try and blackmail him for a cut of the illicit commission paid by DCNS. For the record, Baginda has admitted being lovers while Najib has said he never knew her at all.
Meanwhile, perhaps to ensure maximum secrecy, Baginda got his family members involved. Several business entities were created such as Perimekar which was wholly owned by another company, KS Ombak Laut Sdn Bhd, which in turn was also controlled by Baginda and his wife. And to make the money trail a bit longer Baginda created another company Terasasi (Hong Kong) Sdn Bhd with his father Malim as a director.
Possibly, the group’s thinking then was that with the Defence Minister and the future Prime Minister involved, how could things go wrong? Even if they were caught, they would be let off the hook! It was their own ‘perfect’ scheme but sad to say, unknown to the two wives, both Najib and Baginda were having affairs with Altantuya and unknown to all of them, Altantuya wasn’t about to let herself be ‘screwed’ for free.
Caught with their pants down
When the 28-year-old beauty found out that the Scorpene deal was successful and Perimekar had received the agreed commission, Altantuya could smell the money even from Mongolia, so to speak.
She decided to get something for herself and came to Malaysia. Whether or not she had really been promised a share of the loot is hard to say. Why didn’t they just pay her off? Was it really because Rosmah got jealous? But would someone so shrewd and money-conscious become so emotional? What was the trigger?
Again, Malaysians and the world will have to wait before the dots can be connected and the picture drawn out. Whatever the truth, Altantuya blackmailed Baginda, threatening to expose the sexual affairs with him and Najib. After all, as her father Setev Shaariibuu has said, she did have photos of the three of them together as ‘proof’.
Now, Altantuya meant trouble to Baginda and Najib. Big trouble which had to be dealt with immediately or Najib’s hopes of becoming the next prime minister would fizzle up in smoke if he was indeed involved. But what to do? How to react? This part of the scheme had never been thought out before and the alleged duo were practically caught with their pants down, hence the panic and spontaneous reactions.
When Altantuya arrived in Kuala Lumpur with her cousin Burmaa Oyuchimeg, she engaged a private investigator to help her check out Baginda. Altantuya had witnesses and other records to confirm her presence in Malaysia despite Immigration computers that showed she had never entered the country. She really did make life complicated for Baginda. Her kidnapping was carried out by agents from the Malaysian Special Branch in broad daylight in front of Baginda’s house – even with witnesses present. That was how desperate Baginda was. Malaysian media have not published the full details, but foreign press have.
It was the cab-driver who messed up their ‘perfect’ plan
As is usually true in such covert operations, it’s the small details that matter. The entire operation came undone due to the non-payment of Altantuya’s cab fare. The taxi driver hired by Altantuya for the day did not appreciate that his passenger had been kidnapped from right under his eyes without payment for the fare. He took note of the registration plate of the kidnapper’s car – and filed a complaint at the local police station. This established that the kidnappers’ car was a government vehicle, and fingered its owners.
Najib was allegedly too stunned to think clearly. Baginda decided to hire third parties to help out and private-eye P Balasubramaniam was brought in to do some fact finding because they did not have the luxury of time. The whole Scorpene deal could just explode. It was too big to handle and too risky at that political juncture in Malaysia for both UMNO and Najib. The money trail was long but straight forward such that both Najib and Baginda could be easily traced.
Najib is believed to have entrusted the matter to his private secretary Musa Safri to do whatever was necessary. It has been reported that Rosmah, being nosy, smelt something was amiss and correctly guessed that her husband was in deep trouble. Perhaps she nagged him but whatever it was, the PM-to-be is said to have spilled the beans to his wife.
Now – and this has been confirmed by the elderly folk in her own village – Rosmah is not someone you play with. She is ruthless – no question marks there at all. But did she as it was reported carry out her own hunt for Altantuya? Did she command Najib’s two personal bodyguards, Sirul Azhar and Azilah Hadri, as well as her own trusted military aides Norhayati and Aziz Buyong to help her deal with Altantuya?
Only they would know and they are not telling. Not yet, anyway. If Altantuya was still alive, she could be a witness in any court case pertaining to the scandal. Her involvement would have made things even more complex and stinky for the Malaysian government because the matter would then carry an international dimension. Such publicity would obviously be bad for the Malaysian leaders.
As it turned out, Altantuya was murdered and her remains were destroyed with C-4 on October 18, 2006 in a deserted area in Shah Alam at outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.