At a heated press conference at the end of the UMNO Annual Assembly on March 28, the newly crowned President of UMNO Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak failed to dispel swirling rumours of his alleged links to the murder of Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaariibuu.
This press conference had attracted unusually intense foreign press attention, due to heightened international media coverage over the scandal as Najib’s anticipated ascension to premiership nears. And as the name of Altantuya splashes in news features that pop up all over the world from France to Australia and from US to India, Najib seems to be irretrievably linked to this sex-corruption-murder scandal in which a multi-billion dollar Government arms purchase featured prominently.
Answering a barrage of questions from foreign journalists whether these persistent aspersions would undermine his premiership, Najib only repeatedly said: “These are malicious and baseless lies. I have already given my answers, but they persist. This is an opposition ploy.”
Najib sounded as if he had already given all the necessary explanations to exonerate himself from his apparently strong connection to the case, but actually all he had done was the repeated uttering of these few words: “I had never met the Mongolian woman, I had never known her”, full stop. In fact, he swore in public several times, using words to the same effect.
If Najib thought those few words were sufficient to quell the mountain of suspicion arising from the myriad of burning questions as yet unanswered - in the face of dubious action or inaction by the law enforcers - he must have been terribly naïve, and he completely underestimated the intelligence of the public. Just to pick a few of these at random to demonstrate how serious these questions are:
- Private investigator P. Balasubramaniam and his family mysteriously disappeared a day after he revealed in a sworn statement intimate details incriminating Najib to the murder case in July 2008. Despite promises to investigate, the police have remained silent over the contents of this affidavit. And the court had also barred the admission of this document. Why did the police and the court keep a safe distance from this document that could have led to a break-through of this trial? What has happened to Bala and family – as nobody seemed to know their whereabouts?
- Why did the court – prosecutors, defence lawyers and judge – acting in unison, block further evidence from Altantuya’s cousin Burmaa Oyunchinmeg when she testified that Najib appeared in a photograph with Altantuya?
- Why did the court block further evidence upon revelation in court that Malaysian immigration records of Altantuya and her two Mongolian companions had been mysteriously erased? Shouldn’t such erasure have been considered an important lead and an indication that some VVIP was involved?
- Why were Najib and his aide-de-camp Musa Safri not investigated and called to the witness stand, since it was Musa Safri who gave instruction to the first accused (first and second accused were Najib’s bodyguards) to take care of third accused Razak Baginda’s ‘woman problem’. Now that Razak Baginda (a close associate of Najib) had been declared innocent, the court is left with the bizarre scenario of a murder without a motive, since the first two accused had no motive on their own to kill the victim.
It does not take a Sherlock Holmes or a legal expert to smell a rat in the handling of this murder case – a possible conspiracy to cover up for the real culprit.
During the press conference, not satisfied with Najib’s simplistic answers, journalists repeatedly asked the same questions. Finally, Najib snapped: “We will deal with it, we know how to handle it.” When asked whether this means possible crack-downs against his political opponents, Najib protested: “It is not fair to prejudge me. Give me a chance to take office first. Judge me by my action.”
So, Najib is pleading to be allowed to become the prime minister first, then judge him for what he does.
But is it fair to ask the nation to accept the risk of appointing a prime minister when such formidable dark clouds clearly hang over his head? If there is indeed incriminating evidence, would it not act as a potential time bomb that could cause the PM to be prosecuted or subject to blackmail by those in possession of such evidence? Even if such evidence is non-existent, Najib has no way of running away from this taint, which would surely undermine his standing and effectiveness as prime minister at home and abroad, so long as he refuses to submit himself to a proper investigation and subsequent vindication in a court of law.
INDEPENDENT INQUIRY A MUST
It is therefore imperative that a royal commission be set up to clear Najib of such suspicion before his appointment as PM (if he is innocent) to safeguard national interests. That would mean a delay of a few months to his impending appointment.
I can see no possible reason to object to such a postponement, as incumbent Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, whose term does not end until 2013, is fully capable of helming the state, fresh from accolades heaped upon him by his party for rendering invaluable service to the nation.
Najib in particular should welcome such an authoritative process to free him from the current tag and enhance his credibility as future premier, and he should therefore have no objection to such a postponement to the highest office of the land. Unless of course, for reasons only known to himself, he cannot afford to be so probed; neither could he afford not to be at the pinnacle of power at this very moment.
As for the nation at large, such an independent inquiry should bring a sigh of relief that the future premier is cleared of at least the taint of suspicion in relation to a high-profile murder of a foreign national.