Ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak appeared in a photo near a Mongolian model who was murdered later during his tenure as Malaysia’s defense chief, her cousin said Wednesday while testifying in a civil trial over a lawsuit first filed by the dead woman’s family 12 years ago.
Burmaa Oyunchimeg, the cousin of victim Altantuya Shaariibuu, took the stand as the opening witness in the trial at the Shah Alam Court in Selangor state. She testified that in 2005, Shaariibuu showed her a photograph of herself standing with Abdul Razak Baginda, a former aide to the then-defense minister, and Najib, who was also deputy prime minister at the time.
“I remember I saw a photo of three people, two men and Altantuya. I asked her who they were and she said one was the deputy prime minister and the other was Razak, who worked with him and did business together,” Oyunchimeg said.
The trial, which began this week, stems from a 2007 lawsuit brought by Shaariibuu’s family against the Malaysian government, Abdul Razak, and two former policemen who served in Najib’s security detail in 2006. Najib, a former prime minister, has denied having ever met Shaariibuu.
The plaintiffs are seeking 100 million ringgit (U.S. $24.1 million) in damages, their lawyer said.
The photograph, which was displayed as an exhibit in the courtroom, was taken during a trip to Paris that her cousin took with Abdul Razak, Oyunchimeg told the court. There are no family ties between Abdul Razak and Najib.
The witness testified that she had also asked Altantuya if the two men were brothers, given that they shared a name.
“She said ‘no’ but they were best friends, business partners and worked together,” Oyunchimeg recalled.
Responding to reporters’ questions about the testimony govern on Wednesday by Oyunchimeg, Najib accused the witness of lying on the stand.
“Oh, God, that is slander. Lies. I never met her. I swore in a mosque about this,” said Najib who was in Cameron Highlands to campaign for a Barisan Nasional candidate in an upcoming parliamentary by-election.
Abdul Razak, for his part, declined to answer questions from Benar News on Wednesday.
“As this is ongoing trial, please let the trial proceed,” the former aide to Najib said.
Before Shaariibuu was murdered in October 2006, Abdul Razak was allegedly involved in a romantic relationship with the Mongolian beauty queen, who served as an interpreter while the Malaysian government was negotiating with France, back in in 2002, for the purchase of French-made Scorpene submarines.
The deal became the focus of major corruption scandal in Malaysia, following the murder of Shaariibuu, who had allegedly demanded a payoff for working as an interpreter during the negotiations. The Mongolian woman was slain by being shot dead and then blown up with C4 plastic explosives in a jungle outside Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Najib later became prime minister but lost power last May when his Barisan Nasional coalition crashed out in a general election against an opposition bloc led by a former mentor-turned-foe, Mahathir Mohamad.
Abdul Razak was Najib’s political advisor when Najib served as deputy prime minister from 2004 to 2009.
Abdul Razak was arrested and charged with abetting in the murder of Shaariibuu. The two policemen who were also named in the suit, Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar, were charged in November 2006 on suspicion of carrying out the killing.
Abdul Razak was acquitted in 2008, but Azilah and Sirul were found guilty and sentenced to death in 2015 for the murder by a Malaysian court. At the time, Sirul escaped to Australia, where he is currently being held at a detention center. Meanwhile, Azilah is sitting on death row at Malaysia’s Sungai Buloh prison.
A 12-year wait
Ramkarpal Singh, the legal counsel representing Shaariibuu’s family, told reporters on Tuesday that the case took so long to be heard because the previous government had launched an effort to derail the lawsuit. That led to the family having to lodge a series of appeals against the government legal counter-moves, the attorney said.
“We had to postpone the suit temporarily back then to wait for the court come to a verdict on the criminal trial in the two police officers, who killed Altantuya,” Singh said.
“At the same time, the previous government filed to the court to set aside the 100 million ringgit suit but the family appealed to the court, so all this takes time,” the lawyer told reporters at the Shah Alam courthouse.
According to Singh, the family decided to sue over the trauma and suffering they had endured from Shaariibuu’s murder.
“The family has suffered and has been traumatized by the nature of the murder – hence suing all parties involved,” he said.
In June 2018, Singh and the dead woman’s father, Setev Shaariibuu, met with Attorney-General Tommy Thomas in lobbying Malaysia’s new government to reopen the criminal case into the murder.
“They are certain that there is enough new evidence to warrant a reopening of the case,” Singh said on June 19.
The next day, Malaysia’s national police chief told Benar that the murder case would be re-opened.
“We will determine whether a new investigation team will be set up as soon as possible,” Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun said then, but without giving a timeframe on a new probe.