A murder most foul as sleaze returns to Malaysia

SCMP August 1 2008

Some see the turmoil at the top of Malaysian politics as farce. But it is better seen as tragedy that could end not with an alleged sodomite as prime minister but a man whose proximity to a murder case could see him shunned on the world stage.

The levels of sleaze in the United Malays National Organisation are being exposed as on a par with the latter days of the Marcos regime in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, intense politicking increases the danger of communal friction as Malay leaders play the race card against opponents.

Much attention has been paid to the allegations of sodomy, which is illegal in Malaysia, levelled by a former aide against opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

This is seen by most as a bid to block his return to power.

Mr Anwar was similarly charged after he fell out with then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998. A sodomy conviction and long jail term in 2000 were overturned in 2004 - after Dr Mahathir had left office.

Some suspicion of homosexual instincts still surrounds Mr Anwar and has damaged his reputation somewhat.

But the events surrounding the latest allegations have reinforced the belief that they are politically motivated. Mr Anwar's accuser had earlier met Deputy Prime Minister and heir-apparent Najib Razak, a fact Mr Najib first denied before admitting that he had met him for 'career counselling'.

The sodomy allegations have succeeded in distracting attention from more serious allegations against Mr Najib, and his wife, in connection with the murder of a former mistress of his then associate, defence consultant Razak Baginda.

Mongolian model and translator Altantuya Shaariibuu was shot and blown up after she had been pressuring Razak for money.

Print media have largely got Mr Najib's name out of the murder case but much information and commentary has surfaced on the websites Malaysiakini and Asia Sentinel, and that of Malaysia Today.

On trial for the murder are Mr Najib's former associate Razak, and two members of Mr Najib's security team. The conduct of the trial has been marked by bizarre twists, and its long-drawn-out nature appears to be deliberate.

French-speaking Altantuya had not only been defence consultant Razak's mistress but had accompanied him to Paris for negotiations on a submarine deal worth Euro1 billion (HK$12.3 billion), which netted Razak's company huge commissions. Mr Najib was, and remains, defence minister.

Recently, specific allegations have been made by a private detective who had been employed by defence consultant Razak.

In a statutory declaration, he detailed the relationship between Razak and Mr Najib over Altantuya, who, he claimed, had first been involved with Mr Najib, who passed her on to Razak.

But, no sooner had the declaration been released than the private detective was hauled into a police station where he apparently withdrew it - and then disappeared.

Now, the judge in the murder case has rejected efforts of counsel for Altantuya's family to call Mr Najib or the private detective to the witness stand.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Today's editor, Raja Petra Kamarudin, who had published detailed allegations relating to events surrounding the murder, was first charged with sedition.

Then, the government made a criminal libel allegation against him. Lawyers believe this to be a way of silencing him.

These events have taken the heat off embattled Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

But, he is too weak to make sure justice is done when leading Malays take their racial and political privileges to their logical limits.





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