Sensational case keeps Net abuzz

(The Straits Times) SHAH ALAM, April 10 — She was a pretty part-time model and interpreter from Mongolia. He was a respected political analyst and a close friend of the deputy prime minister.

Altantuya Shaaribuu, 28, and a single mother of two boys, met Abdul Razak Baginda, now 48 and a married father of one daughter.

A torrid affair ensued. The couple carried on in Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and Singapore.

The romance soon ended in horror in a Malaysian jungle. Altantuya was shot twice in the head by two police commandos, who then blew up her body with explosives and left the pieces to rot.

In a sensational development, her lover was charged with abetting the murder. But after an even more sensational trial, the High Court cleared him of all charges.

Today, Razak is a free man studying in London, far from home. Back in Malaysia, two special police officers were convicted of the murder yesterday and sentenced to death.

That in a nutshell ends the story that riveted the country for years as the details of the case came out in the High Court. Or does it?

On the Internet and in gossip circles, seamy tales continue to be told, most probably untrue.

People have even drawn a tenuous link between the murdered woman and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, due to the friendship between the political analyst and Najib.

Razak's private investigator P. Balasubramaniam also linked the premier to the woman.

The victim was a part-time interpreter who was born in Mongolia, grew up in St Petersburg and studied in Beijing. She was also a model who spoke Russian, English, Mandarin and Japanese, according to a civil suit filed by her family against the government on June 6 last year.

Najib, who was deputy premier and defence minister when the case broke, has repeatedly denied any link to the case — but the political opposition will not let the issue rest.

His opponents keep pointing out that too many questions have been left unanswered. One of those involved Najib's aide-de-camp Musa Safri. His name came up during the trial but he was never called to testify.

Razak may have escaped a conviction but he could not deny his connection to Altantuya. In a court document he signed in 2007, he confessed that he did have an affair with the woman. The affidavit said they met in Hong Kong at the end of 2004.

Their friendship soon turned intimate in 2005, he admitted. Altantuya identified herself as Aminah, a student who became a “part-timer” to earn a living. Razak did not explain what part-timer meant.

He said he gave her US$10,000 (RM37,000) three or four times, taking pity on her because she said her mother had cancer. But the affair quickly turned bitter: Within eight months, her requests for financial help apparently turned to blackmail.

Razak then started to ask Musa for help. Musa in turn assigned two special force policemen to protect Razak on Oct 17, 2006.

Then Altantuya disappeared around the evening of Oct 19. It was several weeks later that what was left of her body was found in the jungle.

Yesterday, the two special force policemen — Azilah Hadri, 33, and Sirul Azhar Umar, 37 — were found guilty of her murder and sentenced to hang by the Shah Alam High Court.

But the sensational case continues to keep the Internet abuzz. Many bloggers launched personal attacks against Najib. Altantuya's brutal death and the tenuous links to Najib were also used by the opposition during the elections and by-elections.

The editor of website Malaysia Today, Raja Petra Kamarudin, even claimed that Najib's wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor was personally involved in the murder. He accused Rosmah of being present when Altantuya's body was blown up.

Malaysia Today also revealed a long exchange of SMSes which it claimed were between Najib and lawyer Datuk Shafie Abdullah, who initially represented Razak in the trial.

Najib did not deny the SMSes were sent by him, but said they did not indicate he was interfering in the case. There has been no concrete evidence to connect the victim or the murder to Najib and his wife.

In a recent interview with Chinese newspaper Sin Chew Daily, Rosmah defended herself and her husband. She said the rumours were politically motivated and amounted to slander.

“I really don't care how people misunderstand me,” she said.

“The important thing is that my conscience is clear.”