Malaysia’s Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of two of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s former police guards who had been sentenced to death for the 2006 murder of a Mongolian woman.
A three-person panel chaired by Justice Mohamed Apandi Ali ruled that misdirections by the trial judge rendered their convictions unsafe, the Star newspaper reported online today. Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail said he will appeal today’s decision in the Federal Court, the country’s highest court.
“The prosecution is dissatisfied with the decision,” Abdul Gani said in an e-mailed statement. “The misdirection by the trial court is not the fault of the prosecution.”
Special Action Unit officers Sirul Azhar Umar and Azilah Hadri, who were part of a rotating pool of policemen who guarded Najib, were sentenced to death for killing 28-year-old Altantuya Shaariibuu. Najib, deputy prime minister at the time, has denied any connection to her death. His former adviser Abdul Razak Baginda, who admitted an affair with Altantuya, was acquitted in 2008 of abetting the killing due to lack of evidence.
“With their release, people will be asking even more questions on who did the murder,” Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive officer of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said in a phone interview today. “The timing is awful for Najib with the UMNO leadership elections coming up. This will add pressure on him.”
The United Malays Nasional Organisation, or UMNO, is the biggest political party in the coalition that has governed Malaysia since independence in 1957. Najib is waiting to see if he’ll be challenged for the party’s presidency after leading the alliance to its narrowest victory in five decades during the general election in May.
“Today’s acquittal is a matter for the courts,” the government said in an e-mailed statement. “The Malaysian judiciary is robust and independent, and the prosecution have stated their intention to appeal.”
Abdul Razak had been head of the Malaysian Strategic Research Centre, a Kuala Lumpur-based organization that was founded by Najib in 1993. During his trial, the political analyst said he had an affair with the model who later blackmailed him.
During earlier hearings, police said they found the victim’s bone fragments in the jungle and her family claimed she was shot and then blown apart with plastic explosives. Rosmah Mansor, Najib’s wife, denied being present at the murder in a biography released this year, and said she had been questioned by police at the time.
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