The Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case has taken another appalling turn. First, political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, who seemed to have more of a motive for killing the Mongolian model, was acquitted in 2009, without his defence being called. Now the Court of Appeal has freed the two police commandos convicted by the High Court of actually killing her and blowing her body up with a C4 explosive.
The Court of Appeal acquitted Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar because it ruled that the judge who heard the case in the High Court committed serious misdirection. Among other things, he did not allow then deputy prime minister Najib Razak’s aide-de-camp, DSP Musa Safri, a key witness, to be called to testify, and he failed to establish how the two accused came to possess the C4 and whether there was common intention between them to commit murder.
The Malaysian layman, however, doesn’t want to know the legal implications. He is concerned only with the moral aspects. He knows that Sirul made a cautioned statement describing what he and Azilah did to Altantuya that fateful night, and that he mentioned the offer of a reward of RM50,000 to RM100,000 for killing her.
This cautioned statement was ruled not permissible as evidence by the judge, Mohd Zaki Yassin, and the two commandos were never asked during the trial as to who made that offer to them. But it seemed clear that Sirul and Azilah were merely hitmen. They didn’t know the victim. If they had a motive to kill her, it would appear to be only to collect the reward.
That being so, it was, however, never asked in court who instructed them to kill Altantuya. To the layman, it is extremely strange that the prosecution did not ask that crucial question.
To the layman, therefore, someone else must have been behind the murder of the Mongolian model. And as such, it would not be quite right for the two commandos to be hanged for it. But then again, it’s also not right for them to be freed on technicalities. It’s not right for them to be freed because the High Court judge made bloopers. If they did commit the act of killing, they must be held accountable. Perhaps on a lesser charge. They can’t simply be absolved of it.
Even more important to the layman is knowing the truth about the murder. He has invested seven years of interest in the case, and its outcome has a bearing on how much confidence he can give to his country’s system of justice. He doesn’t want to be disappointed – no, devastated – by an outcome that reveals nothing.
As a concerned citizen, he wants to see justice done. He wants the real culprit to be found. He wants closure. He doesn’t know Altantuya personally, but he wants justice for her and her family.
So he wants something concrete done about it. But as a layman, he doesn’t know what can be done. He is putting his trust in the country’s authorities, but so far, they have not inspired confidence.
In fact, he is beginning to feel suspicious about whether the prosecution and the High Court judge mishandled the case by design. He wonders what should happen to public officials who do their job badly. He wonders if the purpose of mishandling the case was to allow it to be closed with no one getting convicted. And once the case was closed, people would in time forget it.
He even wonders if it was to cover up something. Or to protect someone. He is reminded of what Sirul said, in tears, on February 3, 2009, when he pleaded with Mohd Zaki not to pass the death sentence because he was “a black sheep that has to be sacrificed” to protect unnamed people who had not been brought to court or faced questioning.
“I appeal to the court, which has the powers to determine if I live or die,” he said, “not to sentence me so as to fulfil others’ plans for me.”
Who are these “others”? Why do the people who are responsible for dispensing justice not want to know? That’s what haunts the layman. How do we proceed to find out?
The prosecution has said it will appeal the Court of Appeal decision, but that still won’t get to the bottom of the crime because the Federal Court will not allow fresh evidence to be presented then. Besides, might not the Federal Court judges also agree that the prosecution did indeed present a shoddy case and the judge did misdirect, and therefore uphold the decision of the Court of Appeal? And after that, what? Would that be the end of the story?
Some people are saying the Court of Appeal should have ordered a retrial, and some are saying it wouldn’t have been fair because it would give the prosecution a second chance to do better. The layman doesn’t care. He only wants to know the truth.
Could it be achieved by launching new investigations? The layman is aware that the Bar Council said last March that there is enough new evidence to persuade the Attorney-General (A-G) to do just that. So why not?
Bar Council President Christopher Leong said then, “The revelations by Deepak Jaikishan, the late P. Balasubramaniam and Americk Singh Sidhu have raised sufficient concern to warrant further investigations by the authorities.” So why not?
With new investigations, the layman thinks, we might be able to answer the questions of who instructed the two commandos to kill Altantuya; how they managed to obtain the C4 explosives; what Musa Safri’s role was; who instructed the Immigration Department to expunge all records of Altantuya’s entry into Malaysia; what Najib Razak meant when he allegedly SMSed Razak Baginda: “I am seeing IGP [Inspector-General of Police] at 11.00am. Today … matter will be solved … be cool.”
And whether Najib did SMS Shafee Abdullah, who was Razak Baginda’s lawyer: “Pls do not say anything to the press today. I will explain later. RB will have to face a tentative charge but all is not lost.” And if he did, what he implied by that. And whether he was trying to intervene.
The layman is being idealistic in hoping that everything will eventually fall into place, but he is also aware that there will be stumbling blocks. Would the A-G be willing to call for new investigations? After all, why didn’t he appeal the acquittal of Razak Baginda?
But the truth is important to the layman. Like it or not, the Court of Appeal verdict has raised even more questions without answering any. Well, not directly. If there had been any intention on anyone’s part to bundle off the case so that it would be removed from the public sphere, it hasn’t worked. In the court of public perception, it has instead been brought into sharper focus.
It has also made Malaysia look bad to the rest of the world. Our public attorneys cannot conduct a proper prosecution. A High Court judge misdirects. Another court acquits on technical grounds. We can’t ensure that justice is done.
The layman finds this unacceptable. He wants the right thing done, he wants the truth. He wishes the prime minister would come out to call for a way to get to the truth, no matter what, no matter how. He knows it’s idealistic and beyond his wildest dreams, but if Najib were to do that, it would be the best thing he’s ever done. And why not? Isn’t this the era of ‘Endless Possibilities’?
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling books No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians and Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!