31 October, 2008

Abdul Razak Baginda acquitted over sensational murder

Abdul Razak Baginda, a high-profile political analyst was cleared of involvement in the murder of a Mongolian woman, in a case linked to top government figures that has gripped Malaysia.

A close associate of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, he was accused of abetting the 2006 slaying of his former lover Altantuya Shaariibuu, whose body was blown up with explosives in a jungle clearing.

In one of the longest hearings in Malaysia's history, a court spent 151 days considering whether there was a case against Abdul Razak and two police officers accused of carrying out the murder.

"I find there is no prima facie case for him to answer his charge. He is therefore acquitted and discharged," said Judge Mohamad Zaki Mohamad Yasin. He had faced the death penalty by hanging if found guilty.

However, the court ordered the two policemen -- from an elite unit which guards the prime minister and deputy prime minister -- to enter their defence. The case will be heard from November 10.

Altantuya's father Setev Shaariibuu was distraught over the decision, in a case that has been seen as a test of the strength of Malaysia's much-criticised judiciary.

"I am not satisfied. My daughter knows only one Malaysian and it is Razak Baginda. Now my daughter is dead and Baginda is freed... the country has lost credibility in the world," he told reporters.

Political analyst Abdul Razak Abdullah Baginda was "saved" by his own affidavit in which the court accepted as the grounds to acquit him from the charge of abetting two policemen in the murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu.

High Court judge Datuk Mohd Zaki Md Yasin ruled that exculpatory statements contained in Abdul Razak's affidavit negated and nullified the act of abetment as alleged against him.

Abdul Razak's action to file the affidavit was out of the ordinary and was at one point described by some in the legal fraternity as "now the cat was out of the bag".

"In my view, once the essential elements of abetment, that is, by instigation, conspiracy and aiding, and in the context of this case, the death of Altantuya is not proven on the basis of a prima facie evidence, any other inferences and doubts that may have arisen must be resolved, as is trite, in favour of the accused person.

"It is not for the court to call for the defence merely to clear or clarify such doubts," Mohd Zaki said in his judgment when acquitting and discharging Abdul Razak without ordering him to enter his defence.

The judge said the affidavit was corroborated in material particulars by four witnesses, private eye P. Balasubramaniam, Altantuya's cousin Burmaa Oyuchimeg, Lance Corporal Rohaniza Roslan and Siti Aishah Mohd Azlan, and other surrounding circumstances.

An exculpatory statement means a statement by the defendant or accused that tends to clear a defendant/accused from alleged guilt, or a statement that tends to justify or excuse his/her actions or presence.

The affidavit was previously filed by Abdul Razak to support his application for bail before the trial with the intention to show that he did not abet in the murder.

In the affidavit, Abdul Razak had revealed details of his affair with Altantuya where he said he met her in 2004 and their romance saw them jet-setting to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and France.

Abdul Razak, who is married to Mazlinda Makhzan and they have a daughter, Rowena, said he and Altantuya broke up around August 2005.

He also said in the affidavit that he was being blackmailed by Altantuya.

The fact that the two policemen, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Cpl Sirul Azhar Umar, will continue to face the murder charge will almost certainly ensure many Malaysians will be suspicious of the whole affair.

Regardless of whether it is fair or not, Razak's acquittal will only go further to fuel rumours and speculation about the involvement of Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

That has become the nature of politics in Malaysia.

Razak is, of course, a close associate of Najib.

It looks like the Altantuya murder trial may well generate more heat on Nov 10.

Meanwhile, Cpl Sirul Azhar Umar's lawyer Kamarul Hisham Kamaruddin said they plan to summon two witnesses -- Abdul Razak Baginda's private investigator P. Balasubramaniam (who had gone missing) and blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, who is currently under Internal Security Act detention.

Kamarul said he will write to the Home Minister to allow Raja Petra to be called up as a witness. As for the P.I., he did not say how he would reach him.

“I will be looking into the two statutory declarations made by Balasubramaniam and one by Raja Petra and check on their authenticity,” he added.

The first declaration by the P.I. had made sensational accusations, including that deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak had a relationship with the late Altantuya Shaariibuu. This was revealed at a press conference with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

However, just as sensationally, he made another declaration to retract that particular accusation. After that, he and his family disappeared from their Rawang home, and have not been seen since.

Azilah’s lawyer Datuk Hazman Ahmad said they plan to call four witnesses to take the stand, including DSP Musa Safri, Azilah’s fiancée Norazila Baharuddin, one Sjn Idris, one Sjn Shamlin and Sub Inspector Megat.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim wished Abdul Razak Baginda well, but questioned the manner in which the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case was handled by the police and the prosecution.

"Of course on a personal level, I wish Razak well, but the issue here revolves around the court procedure and the investigations," he said.



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