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Pacific News Minute: Malaysian Hitman Loses Asylum Appeal; Convicted in Notorious Murder

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A court in Sydney, Australia issued a decision this week in a notorious case that’s gripped Malaysia for more than a decade. A case that involves murder, allegations of espionage and corruption at the highest levels.

In 2006, then Malaysian defense minister Najib Razak was negotiating a billion dollar deal to buy submarines from France with a close associate, Razak Baginda.

A 26-year-old Mongolian woman named Altantuya Sha-ari-ibuu worked for Baginda as a translator. She was also his lover.  She was abducted outside his home, driven to a clearing outside of Kuala Lumpur and shot in the head. Her body was blown up with explosives.

Years later, after Najib Razak became Prime Minister, two members of an elite bodyguard unit were convicted of the murder and sentenced to death; one of them, Sirul Azhar Umar escaped to Australia where he’s been held since 2014.

This week, a judge rejected his final appeal for asylum and in records obtained by Australia’s ABC, Sirul told the court the motive. He said he’d been ordered to kill Altantuya because she was a Russian spy, but he didn’t say who ordered the hit.

Last year, right after Najib Razak was voted out of office, Sirul offered to tell all, in exchange for a full pardon from Malaysia.

But most reports provide another motive; they say Altantuya was killed because she knew too much about 134 million dollars in kickbacks from the French submarine manufacturer, DCNS.

Two years ago, that same French company won a 36 billion dollar contract to build submarines for Australia.

Sirul’s deportation remains on hold, until Malaysia abolishes the death penalty.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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