MONGOLIAN translator Altantuya Shaariibuu had an affair with a Malaysian businessman named Abdul Razak Baginda.
She came to Malaysia in October 2006 to collect what she alleged was “a fee” for her professional services rendered to him.
Tragically, she not only failed to see him and collect the money, she also lost her life, and the unborn baby she was then carrying.
She was shot dead before her body was blown to pieces with explosives at a secluded spot near the Subang Dam in Puncak Alam, Shah Alam.
Three men were charged with the brutal murder — Razak, and two police officers from the Bukit Aman Special Action Unit (Unit Tindakan Khas, UTK), Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar.
Razak was acquitted and discharged when the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case at the trial stage at the High Court, leaving the two police officers (Azilah and Sirul) to face the music. They were subsequently found guilty by the High Court on April 10, 2009 and sentenced to death.
On appeal, the Court of Appeal quashed their conviction on Aug 23, 2013. The Federal Court in January 2015 allowed the prosecution’s appeal, set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal and restored the conviction and sentence of the High Court.
Meanwhile, Sirul had managed to leave the country and sought sanctuary in Australia. Efforts are now being made to have him returned to Malaysia.
Looking back, many found it strange that while the prosecution had appealed against the acquittal of Azilah and Sirul at the Court of Appeal, it did not appeal against the decision of the High Court acquitting Razak.
The years passed by and the memory of the tragic murder began to fade. However, in June 2018, the nation was jolted again when Altantuya’s father, Dr Setev Shaariibuu, lodged a police report at the Dang Wangi police station in Kuala Lumpur.
His lawyer, Ramkarpal Singh, informed the media that the police report was made to jump-start the reopening of the investigation into Altantuya’s murder.
He explained that the case must be reopened because some important witnesses were not called to give evidence at the trial in 2009. One “crucial witness” who should have been called was Deputy Superintendent Musa Safri, he said.
Ramkarpal also told reporters (after he and his client had met Attorney-General Tommy Thomas) that there were “positive signs” the case would be probed again “following the emergence of new leads”.
He expressed optimism that certain other critical issues (such as motive and the identity of the individual who ordered the killing) would also be investigated further.
He said there is “enough basis” for the case to be reopened. That began the second phase of the Altantuya saga.
Eight months have passed since then and the Malaysian public is still wondering if the case has been officially reopened by the attorney-general. If it is reopened, what can Shaariibuu possibly achieve? To know who ordered the killing? To find out the motive — why Altantuya had to die?
Shaariibuu’s chance of success in this new quest depends a lot on the intensity, tenacity and integrity of this second round of criminal investigation. Under the law, Razak, Sirul and Azhar cannot be tried the second time because of the double jeopardy rule.
With so much uncertainty facing him, Shaariibuu took another step in his quest for justice for his dead daughter. In this third phase of the Altantuya saga, he now focused his energy on the civil suit he had filed on June 4, 2007. The civil suit could not proceed then because the court said that it had to wait until the criminal proceedings against the three accused had come to an end.
In the civil suit, Shaariibuu is claiming RM100 million in damages from the Malaysian government and three others (Razak, Sirul and Azhar) for alleged conspiracy and wrongful death.
In October last year, Shaariibuu suffered an initial setback when the Shah Alam High Court ruled that evidence from the Altantuya criminal case cannot be used in the civil case against the government.
Dismissing the plaintiffs’ application to include the evidence of that murder case in their civil suit, the High Court held that it is bound by Section 43 of the Evidence Act.
What this means is that the plaintiffs must prove the two UTK officers had murdered Altantuya all over again.
The only difference is that the onus of proof in a civil suit is lighter than in a criminal case.
Hearing of the civil suit began in the Shah Alam High Court on Jan 22, 2019.
Will this Mongolian father finally find justice (and closure) for his daughter? Only time will tell.
The writer formerly served the Attorney-General’s Chambers before he left for private practice, the corporate sector and academia