PUTRAJAYA: A senior lawyer has cautioned the government against reopening criminal investigations into the 2006 murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu just to appease the public.
Manjeet Singh Dhillon, who is a criminal lawyer, said the prosecution needed credible evidence to secure convictions against anyone charged with murder or abetment in the crime.
“It is going to be a difficult task but not impossible. However, it should not be done to appease the public,” he said.
He was responding to Altantuya’s father, Setev Shaariibuu, who lodged a report yesterday seeking to accelerate the reopening of investigations into his daughter’s murder.
Setev’s lawyer, Ramkarpal Singh, said the case needed to be reopened as several witnesses had not been called in to give evidence.
In particular, he named Musa Safri, the former aide-de-camp to then-deputy prime minister Najib Razak.
Musa was not called to testify at the trial of former policemen Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar, who were convicted and sentenced to death in 2015 by the Federal Court.
Azilah is currently on death row in Kajang prison. He submitted an application for a pardon in 2016.
Sirul, meanwhile, fled Malaysia after his 2013 acquittal by the Court of Appeal and is now in Australian custody.
Altantuya was the lover of Abdul Razak Baginda, a former close associate of Najib. Razak was accused to arranging kickbacks for the purchase of French submarines in 2002.
He was said to have abetted in the crime, but was acquitted without his defence being called. The government did not appeal.
Despite the convictions of Sirul and Azilah, the motive for Altantuya’s murder was never established.
However, Manjeet said motive was not important in a murder case unless to dispel the issue of provocation or passion killing.
He said Azilah or Sirul could be relied upon as prosecution witnesses, but that their credibility would be up for consideration.
“How much weight has to be attached to their testimonies will be left to the trial judge,” he added.
In his defence, Azilah had given evidence that he was not at the crime scene, while Sirul gave an unsworn statement that he was a “victim of circumstances”, which the trial judge rejected.
Lawyer N Sivananthan suggested that a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) be set up instead of the police again investigating the case.
“Since this is a public interest case, the RCI could call witnesses to determine who was responsible, and the motive for Altantuya’s killing,” he said.
He said in a RCI, rules of evidence were not applicable in investigations, unlike a trial in court.
“The RCI can make recommendations, and it will be up to the attorney-general to direct police to further investigate and frame charges if there is sufficient evidence.”
Sivananthan also said relying on Azilah and Sirul as prosecution witnesses was a gamble as they could be impeached if they gave evidence contrary to the position they took in their trial.