I was suspicious over couple’s response to Ivana’s absence, says cop

Senior investigating officer Faizal Abdullah.

KUALA LUMPUR: A police witness in the inquest into Ivana Smit’s death last year told the Coroner’s Court here today he found it suspicious that the couple who were the last people to see the Dutch model said she had left the unit where the trio were on the afternoon of her death.

Faizal Abdullah, a senior investigating officer (IO) from the Dang Wangi district police headquarters, said he was told this by cryptocurrency trader Alex Johnson at the latter’s 20th-floor condo at CapSquare Residence near here on the afternoon of Dec 7, 2017.

“I asked him, ‘Where is your friend (Smit)?’ Alex replied that he did not know, but both he and his wife Luna Almaz tried to search (for Smit) in the house, and the deceased was not there,” Faizal, who is the 22nd and final witness in the inquest, said during examination by SN Nair, the lawyer holding a watching brief for Smit’s family.

“Then – (this is) based on what Alex told me – he assumed (Smit) had gone out of the house because before that, the deceased said she had an appointment at 10am.”

When asked if he believed this, Faizal said no. When asked to elaborate, Faizal, 38, said this could not be the case as Smit had already been found dead on the balcony of a sixth-floor condo in the same building.

“But didn’t it strike you as odd, the fact that her handbag was there, her long boots and two phones?

“Nobody just walks out naked. Didn’t you ask them about this?” Nair said, referring to the state of Smit’s body when it was found on the balcony.

Faizal, who has served in the police force for 14 years, said he had not done this at the crime scene, which was why the couple were brought to the Dang Wangi police station for questioning.

However, he was not there to do this in person.

When asked what had happened at the station and whether this line of questioning was included, Faizal read from the couple’s statement to the police which only referred to the trio having sex, going to a club the night before, and returning to their condo on Dec 7.

“I don’t know if it was asked or not,” he added. “You have to ask Haliza.”

He was referring to Dang Wangi police sergeant Haliza Hamdan who was the original IO in the case. Faizal received orders from Bukit Aman to assume her duties on the evening of Dec 11.

However, Nair said even though there was an IO for the case at the time, as senior IO at the crime scene, Faizal should have questioned Alex and Luna. He asked how they could have said Smit had left if her belongings were still there.

When asked if he thought Alex’s answer was suspicious, Faizal said, “Yes. Maybe. Sure.”

When asked again if he had considered the possibility that Alex was lying to him, Faizal reiterated his answer regarding the discovery of the body, adding that he told the couple about it.

Smit, 18, is believed to have fallen from the 20th-floor condo belonging to Alex and Luna, an American-Kazakh couple, sometime in the afternoon of Dec 7.

Police originally classified the case as sudden death, but an inquest was ordered this year due to pressure from Smit’s family, who claimed there were elements of foul play. The inquest, now in its 21st and last day, is to determine how Smit died.

Later, Faizal said when he was made IO for the case, the odd manner in which Alex had responded to Smit’s absence despite her belongings still being in the condo crossed his mind. He said this was why he had gone to question them again.

When asked what their response was, Faizal told Nair, “Luna and Alex just said no comment and ‘I don’t know’.”

He also rubbished Nair’s argument that he should have opened an investigation paper (IP) instead of a sudden death report (SDR), given his suspicions.

“There were no grounds,” he added.

An SDR is usually opened by the police when the deceased is believed to have died of natural causes. IPs are more general and take into consideration other causes of death such as murder and foul play.

Nair told Faizal he had already testified expressing suspicion over the naked state of Smit’s body at the crime scene last week.

Adding that Faizal had now agreed that Alex and Luna responded suspiciously to the question on her whereabouts, he said this was enough grounds to open an IP.

However, Faizal said his investigation was not limited to taking the couple’s statement.

“We covered every angle, such as (speaking to) the deceased’s friends, (investigating) where she went before her death – not just their statement.”

This earned him a rebuke from Nair, who said that was not the point of his contention.

Nair said the odd nature of the couple’s response, or lack of response, raised a “serious point”. He added that an IP would have given the police power to further detain them.

Given the international attention the case had garnered, he said, even with offers of assistance from the Dutch government, Faizal as the IO could have expedited the findings of the toxicology, DNA and post-mortem reports from Smit’s case in 14 days.

The DNA report was released on March 19. The toxicology report was released on March 15, while the DNA report was released on Feb 28.

Faizal said yesterday that according to the Immigration Department, Alex and Luna left the country with their child via Singapore on March 29.

However, Faizal said determining whether criminal elements were involved did not rely on these reports as they would not have been able to tell whether the case was a murder or not.

Only hard evidence would be able to do this, he said.

Smit moved to Malaysia when she was three and lived for 13 years in Penang with her paternal grandparents. Her body was repatriated to the Netherlands where she was buried in her birth town this year.