Ivana’s death should have been classified as homicide, says cop

Dang Wangi police sergeant Haliza Hamdan.

KUALA LUMPUR: A witness who testified in the inquest into Dutch model Ivana Smit’s death last year told the Coroner’s Court here today that police should have classified the case as a homicide instead of opening a sudden death report (SDR).

Dang Wangi police sergeant Haliza Hamdan, the initial investigating officer for the case, said she had been wary about Smit’s death but opened an SDR paper after being ordered to do so by a superior.

When asked why she did not “use common sense” after seeing the condition in which Smit was found – nude and sprawled on a balcony 14 floors below the unit where she had been staying – Haliza said there was already a police task force at the scene.

She said it would have been inappropriate for her, a junior investigating officer, to question the orders of ASP Faizal Abdullah who later took over the investigation, but that she remained suspicious all the same.

“Yes, I was suspicious and I agree that opening an SDR report was not the right method, but that is why I called the Forensics Department to investigate,” Haliza said before coroner Mahyon Talib during the witness examination by SN Nair, the watching brief lawyer for Smit’s family.

SDRs are usually opened by the police when the deceased is believed to have died due to natural causes. Investigation papers (IPs), on the other hand, are more general and take into consideration other causes of death such as murder or foul play.

When asked by Nair why she had not opened an IP instead, given the circumstances Haliza said she “did not know” what the difference was or what an IP was, adding that she was “following orders from above” to open an SDR.

When asked why her superiors had ordered for an SDR when she as the investigating officer had yet to visit the scene and ascertain what had happened, Haliza said she did not know.

Haliza, who was promoted to an investigating officer just two months before Smit’s death in Capsquare Residence off Jalan Dang Wangi in Kuala Lumpur last December, told the court that she was not familiar with the job.

When asked by Nair whether she was given any training after becoming an assistant investigating officer and later an investigating officer, Haliza said no. She also agreed that she had taken on the case despite lacking the necessary exposure.

She said she agreed with the opinion that the scenes at the 20th-floor unit where Smit had been staying and the 6th-floor unit where the model’s body was found had been compromised before her arrival.

This was because the police who arrived before she did, had not worn protective coverings for their shoes or gloves when handling evidence, she said, adding that neither of the units was sealed off with police tape.

She also agreed that future investigations into sudden deaths should initially be considered as murder to avoid blunders such as the police only detaining the American-Kazakh couple with whom Smit had been staying, instead of arresting them.

The couple, Alex Johnson and Luna Almaz, were detained for police to record their statements following Smit’s death on Dec 7. They left the country after being cleared of suspicion and are currently in the US.

They have not shown up to testify at the inquest despite being subpoenaed. They were the last people to see Smit before she died, and had sex with her hours before her death.

Haliza previously told the court that she had given some of the evidence passed to her by Faizal to Smit’s family, earning the ire of the deputy public prosecutor for not sending the items for DNA testing first.

When asked by Nair today why she had not sent them for DNA testing along with the other articles from the scene, Haliza said she thought the family would want to keep the items, which included Smit’s ID, phones and some petty cash.

She later asked for the items to be returned but agreed with Nair that the evidence had since been contaminated.

Asked again why she was not aware that she should have sent such items for DNA testing before releasing them to the family, Haliza admitted that she was inexperienced and did not know any better.

Today is the 15th day of the inquest.

Smit fell on the afternoon of Dec 7 last year from a 20th-floor condo unit belonging to Alex and Luna.

The police originally classified the case as sudden death, but it was re-opened this year after pressure from Smit’s family who claimed there were elements of foul play and a cover-up.

The inquest is to determine the facts and events leading to Smit’s death and whether there is enough evidence to reopen the case and eventually bring it to trial.

Haliza was the 20th witness to testify.

The inquest will resume on Oct 16 with the testimony of three more witnesses.

Smit moved to Malaysia when she was three years old and lived for 13 years in Penang with her paternal grandparents.

Her body was repatriated to the Netherlands where she was laid to rest in her birth town of Roermond on Dec 30 amid international coverage and scrutiny.