A murdered woman fades into a caricature as the trial of her accused killers in Malaysia drags on into obscurity
On October 18, 2006, a pretty young Mongolian translator named Altantuya Shaariibuu was brutally murdered at the age of 28. Her mutilated body was found in a jungle clearing near the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Sha Alam. Her reputation has been brutalized as well. The pictures printed here may give some of her back to the world.
After her remains were found about a month after the murder, Altantuya’s accused killers, Abdul Razak Baginda, her former lover and the head of a politically well-connected think tank, and two bodyguards for Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, were arrested almost immediately in a blaze of newspaper headlines that all but convicted them.
She had also worked as Abdul Razak’s translator on a shady deal he was brokering for the Malaysian government to buy submarines from France. The pair seem to have travelled to Paris together. A letter found after she was killed appeared to be a demand for money from him for the care of her child, which he may have fathered. She was last seen by eyewitnesses getting into a car outside Abdul Razak’s house with the two elite bodyguards. Abdul Razak had requested help in dealing with her vocal demands for money and presence at the house.
The trial has now been underway for six months while prosecutors wade through a tangle of jurisdictional disputes and take testimony from a tedious list of tangential witnesses. Both prosecution and defense seem intent on keeping the obvious political ramifications of the trial out of the courtroom. It almost seems as if the trial is being delayed just to lessen the impact of a mistrial or even the acquittal of the politically prominent defendants.
In the meantime, Altantuya’s name has been dragged through the mud for so long that she almost has ceased to exist as a person. After being identified by local newspapers following the murder, she was first characterized as a part-time model (code language for a high-priced call girl). She also has been reviled for being an unwed mother, and for jet-setting to Europe with Abdul Razak. She has been described as a bitter, spurned lover demanding money from her rich boyfriend. Her family, meanwhile, has said she worked hard and was just trying to find her way in life.
In a letter found after her death (spelling corrected), she sounds like any jilted young woman: “To see your lover is nothing criminal right? Yes (I) was in shock. I wrote some stupid letters to him where I said I kill myself I want help. Yes I try to blackmail him. Maybe it’s my fault but no I really understand he doesn’t love me anymore and I need to stop that I asked money from him to go back how he promised to me. He lied to me to help and ruin my life. I came to KL to see him to face to face and ask why acting like that. Maybe rich person and he got family doing this. But when I come I did some thing stupid I write letter where I said I will kill myself and thing like that.”
And, she adds: “They say Malaysia is different from Mongolia and said they know people in police so can easy put me to jail. If in Malaysia law goes like that I can’t complain. But true is I did nothing to him. I’m just normal girl trying to meet my lover who lied to me and promised many things but now wants to put me in jail or kill.”
From a series of pictures made available to Asia Sentinel by Syed Abdul Rahman AlHabshi, the honorary Mongolian Consul General in Malaysia, Altantuya looks like nothing more than an attractive young woman off on the trip of her life to Europe. AlHabshi declined a request to say where the pictures came from but they are believed to have been found among her possessions after she was killed. She looks happy. Perhaps she was with her lover when these were taken. Her family has declined to elaborate on the circumstances of the pictures.
According to trial testimony by Burmaa Oyunchimeg, Altantuya’s cousin, who accompanied the victim to Kuala Lumpur to attempt to get Abdul Razak to give her money, there was one more picture. It depicted Altantuya having dinner with Abdul Razak and Deputy Prime Minister Najib. The picture was not in her possession when her decomposed body was found last October. The court has made no attempt to find the picture and Najib has not been called as a witness by either side.
The final picture here is perhaps the most disheartening. It is the three urns in which her bones sit while the trial drones on.