The journalist behind Al Jazeera’s special feature on the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu was deported in the midst of making the documentary.
This was revealed in the investigative piece by Al Jazeera’s weekly programme '101 East', which attempts a follow-up on a murder mystery that continues to haunt Malaysia right to the top of the political establishment.
In the course of her investigation, Australian journalist Mary Ann Jolley, who reported the story for Al Jazeera, was abruptly deported from Kuala Lumpur on June 14, after the Home Ministry deemed her activity as having a "potential negative effect on the image of Malaysia".
Jolley is shown saying in the film, “I’m being deported from Malaysia. I’m being escorted by about five Customs agents and a man in a military outfit, so I’m about to board my flight to Sydney... Clearly, I hit a raw nerve.”
Jolley’s deportation did not stop her pursuit of the story as she tracked down Sirul’s Australian connection, who related his version of what happened the night Altantuya was murdered.
‘Sensational murder mystery’
The programme ‘Murder in Malaysia’ likened the “sensational murder mystery” to a movie, in the words of the victim’s father.
It traced the “shocking tale” of how, in October 2006, Altantuya was taken from a suburban street in Kuala Lumpur, bundled into an unmarked car and driven to her death.
She was shot, then her body obliterated with military-grade explosives. It was a gruesome and sensational crime that captured local and international media attention.
Soon after, two officers from the government’s elite protection squad were charged with her murder. Her former lover Abdul Razak Baginda - an adviser and close confidant of Najib Abdul Razak, who was then deputy prime minister and defence minister – was charged with abetting her murder.
Najib has since become prime minister.
But that was not the end of the story. Throughout the trial, a lot of speculation swirled about why she was killed, and if others were involved and being protected at the highest levels of government.
The question of motive
In the documentary, Ram Karpal, one of the lawyers in the case, tells Al Jazeera: “The number one question on everyone’s mind is motive. Everyone wants to know who ordered it because these two officers who have been found guilty… they had no reason to have hurt her in any way.”
Then, in July 2008, private investigator P Balasubramaniam, known as PI Bala, made sensational declarations alleging an affair between Najib and Altantuya, and he also claimed that Altantuya was involved in a controversial billion-dollar submarine deal.
Najib has always denied this claims and continues to do so, saying in a communication with Al Jazeerathat these are political smears.
The Prime Minister’s Office in a statement following the release of the Al Jazeera documentary, repeated the denials.
Twenty-four hours after the declaration, PI Bala publicly retracted his statement and then suddenly left the country with his family.
PI Bala’s wife, Santamil Selvi, told Al Jazeera that her husband was intimidated and paid to leave Malaysia, and claimed that Najib was behind the offer.
“I was told that Bala will be given a $5,000 per month salary as well as 5 million ringgit,” Santamil said.
Since then, Razak Baginda has been acquitted of any role in her murder. The two special security officers were found guilty and sentenced to death, until they too were set free.
Sirul 'couldn't walk away'
In January this year, they were reconvicted but one of the officers, Sirul Azhar Umar, fled to Australia where he currently remains in a detention centre, as Australia does not extradite anyone facing the death penalty.
A relative of Sirul recalled his conversation with Sirul about the night of Altantyuya’s murder: “I said, ‘Did you pull the trigger, like, did you? I said to him… you had a choice, you had a choice of walking away from the situation and leaving it alone. He said, ‘I would have been dead’, because of what he knew.”
Jolley also uncovered evidence that Sirul is attempting to strike a bargain with what he knows.
Today, Altantuya’s murder remains hidden in a web of silence and conspiracy - which continues to haunt her family who still hope for answers as to why she was killed.
Altantuya’s father Setev Shaariibuu told Al Jazeera that he hopes the truth can be uncovered.
“Her kids (are) hungry for their mother’s love. It’s missing; it’s gone. Nothing can replace a mother’s love and care for her children.
“Nothing… Altantuya was not killed - her life was taken away, she was executed… some day, those people who did this crime will be punished,” Setev said.
The programme was broadcast today at 6.30am, with a repeat at 5.30pm and is available online at theAl Jazeera website.
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