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Malaysia

Hitman linked to Malaysia’s ex-PM Najib Razak wants to settle in Australia

Ex-bodyguard of PM Najib Razak still detained in Sydney three years after arrest for murder of Mongolian model

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 1:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 9:52pm

A Malaysian former prime ministerial bodyguard who was convicted of the murder of a Mongolian translator involved in a French submarine purchase has said he wants to settle in Australia.

Sirul Azhar Umar, who worked for Najib Razak, has been held in the high-security wing of the Villawood immigration detention centre in western Sydney since he was picked up under an Interpol warrant three and a half years ago.

He may hold the key to a crime that has dogged the Najib government for more than a decade.

In an interview with The Guardian, which was given rare permission to visit the detention centre, Sirul said he was the scapegoat in an elaborate political crime and that prosecutors in Malaysia had chosen not to call certain witnesses.

Sirul and a fellow bodyguard, Azila Hadri, were found guilty of the 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu who was the translator for, and lover of, Razak Baginda, one of Najib’s close advisers.

The pregnant Altantuya was abducted in front of Baginda’s Kuala Lumpur home and taken to a forest in Subang where she was shot twice with a semi-automatic weapon and her body was blown up with military-grade explosives to dispose of DNA evidence from the fetus.

She had allegedly demanded payment for her role in securing a French submarine deal.

Sirul said he had never confessed to the killing.

“I bring her halfway along the road, I give her to Azila,” he said.

He alleged Azila had made up an alibi and told the court Sirul was the last person with her.

“I am not a bad person, but the case makes me out as bad,” he said.

The pair were convicted in 2009 as co-conspirators under Malaysian law. Sirul said he decided to visit Australia while on release awaiting an appeal. He claimed he was not fleeing justice.

Neither man knew the victim, and rumours have circulated in Malaysia about who ordered the hit. Since being held in Villawood, Sirul has been visited by figures linked to both Najib’s Umno party and the former opposition of Mahathir Mohamad.

Azila is on death row in Malaysia.

A direct link between Najib and the murder has never been established, and the former leader has always denied knowing Altantuya or being involved in her murder.

Since this month’s election, however, the political landscape in Malaysia has shifted. Najib has been refused permission to leave the country and is under investigation on allegations of corruption and other abuses of office.

Sirul was reported to have told the Malaysian website Malaysiakini last week he was willing to assist the new Pakatan Harapan government to reveal what transpired in the case, provided he was given a full pardon.

At present, that seems unlikely. A high-profile member of the new government, Ramkarpal Singh, said a pardon was inappropriate and Sirul’s testimony, while useful, was not essential. He has called for a new inquiry or a royal commission.

Asked if he could reveal who gave the orders for the killing, Sirul said: “I am not going to comment about it.”

Asked if he had information that would be valuable to any new inquiry, he said “no comment”.

Asked if he would return to Malaysia if his sentence was commuted, Sirul became agitated.

“Singh wants me to serve a life sentence. I don’t want to go back. People say: ‘Don’t give a pardon’. I would be killed in jail,” he said.

To stand any chance of staying in Australia, Sirul must convince authorities that he is not a murderer. He is currently trapped in limbo as the Australian government will not send him back to face the death penalty in Malaysia.

Sirul has been rejected for the temporary protection visa that would allow him to enter the community, on character grounds.

He said he was preparing a case for the administrative appeals tribunal, although his Australian lawyer, Chris Levingston, said he was “not properly instructed” at this moment.

The case is believed to be the subject of high-level discussions between the Australian and Malaysian governments.

Last week the Mongolian president urged the new Malaysian government to reopen the case.