After three and a half months of being holed up in the high security wing of a Sydney immigration detention centre very little has actually happened regarding the case of Sirul Azhar Umar, the bodyguard convicted of the murder of Altantuya Shaaribbuu.
Sirul was arrested while still on a perfectly valid Australian visa, having entered as a free man, following his earlier acquittal by the Malaysian Appeal Court.
After the Federal Court reversed that acquittal, a warrant was issued for his arrest and it has been expected there will be a request for his extradition back to Malaysia.
It was obvious that immediate applications should then have been made to fight such extradition on the basis that Sirul now faces the death penalty in Malaysia.
Australia does not return migrants if they are facing a death penalty.
Yet stunningly slow progress appears to have been made by Sirul’s Malaysia based legal team to support his position and the Malaysian Government has also acted paralysed about what to do.
However, after months of inaction, they suddenly sprang into life just the week before last, immediately after it was made public that Sirul’s anxious mother had sought advice from Dr Mahathir.
Sarawak Report has visited Sydney and learnt that within days of the news of that meeting the two Malaysian lawyers, who are representing Sirul suddenly appeared at the Villawood detention centre on Wednesday and Thursday, 15/16th April to see Sirul, after a gap of several weeks.
“They told him to shut up” a person close to the situation has informed. “He was told not to speak to any media and not to speak to anyone associated with Dr Mahathir or his chance of a protection visa [leave to stay] will be in danger. They have advised him that he needs to keep his mouth shut or he may incriminate himself, even though he is already incriminated.”
Sure enough, visitors sent by Sirul’s family the same week, were turned away from seeing the detainee. He had previously consented to see these visitors, so presumably he was acting on his lawyers’ demands.
Local sources have also said that even his own family members have been told by these same Malaysian lawyers not to visit him either, causing them to cancel a planned trip this week to comfort him in Australia.
These developments coincided with a series of media announcements back in Malaysia from his legal team.
On April 12th his Malay barrister told the press that Sirul wanted “supporters and critics to stop speaking for him“.
The same team of lawyers have publicly confirmed they have “gagged” Sirul – advising him not to speak to anyone further on the ground it could jeopardise the outcome of the proceedings of his case.
Even the Inspector General of Police and his department have been barred, acknowledged Sirul’s barrister, who astonishingly implied the police had lied about sending a team to Australia to investigate.
However, a person who has communicated with the detainee, suggests he has become increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress on the part of his own lawyers:
“They are doing nothing, just telling him to wait, wait, wait and not to see outside people. I have a strong suspicion that Sirul has been paid to keep his mouth shut and if he breaks that there is a heavy penalty. Somebody, somewhere will pay. Something that is dear to him is being held to ransom if he opens his mouth”, the contact said. They also observed that Sirul’s son is being looked after in Australia, financed by an unknown source.
Which brings us to a question that surprisingly few people seem to have asked openly in this case. Who is paying Sirul’s lawyers and why have they not declared openly, who is their financial backer in managing Sirul’s expensive defence costs?
Because, the identities of the lawyers concerned are truly surprising given the circumstances of Sirul’s case.
Sirul’s solicitor is Hasnal Rezua Merican and his barrister is Kamarul Hisham Kamaruddin.
Merican is none other than an UMNO Youth division leader.
As for Kamarul Hisham Kamaruddin, Sarawak Report notes that just this February he was dignified with a Federal Datuk title, designated by the Federal authorities.
The official notice of this honour described his professional background merely in terms of his being “of UMNO Headquarters”!
Why would Sirul be relying on a legal team so wedded to and indeed employed by the ruling UMNO party, which is chaired and controlled by the present Prime Minister, who is a man deeply implicated in this case?
Sirul has repeatedly burst out in court and elsewhere with the complaint that he was merely a lowly bodyguard, who had acted on the orders of his bosses. He has said he was made a “scapegoat” since none of those bosses were tried or even required to give evidence in court.
Sirul’s ultimate boss was the Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose bodyguard he was at the time of the murder and who has been implicated in key testimony as being linked to the murdered woman.
So, therefore it is plain that the interests of the Prime Minister and of UMNO do not at all coincide with Sirul’s interests.
Because, whilst UMNO’s interest is to continue to keep the lid on this case and restrict the blame to the most lowly people involved, Sirul’s interest is to widen the blame, in order to mitigate the circumstances of his own crime.
Indeed, the Appeal Court’s earlier dismissal of Sirul and Azilah’s original convictions was based on the grounds that the original trial had been plainly rigged against them and the prosecution had failed to bring crucial evidence before the court or establish a motive on the part of the two men.
This was indeed true and had been widely criticised at the time as representing the most momentous form of cover-up imaginable:
So, since Sirul’s interests definitely do not coincide with UMNO or its Chairman, the Prime Minister, how can it not be the case that these two UMNO lawyers are encumbered by a massive conflict of interest in agreeing to represent him?
According to one senior member of the bar:
“After the Federal Court conviction, Kamarul said to the press that there was never any motive proved behind his client’s crime.
Oh Really? Did this just occur to you?
Why hadn’t you brought this up at the trial?
You didn’t even allow your client to give evidence on oath in his defence.
Why? What is the point of a very lengthy written excuse read from the dock which basically denied everything (what little thereof) of the prosecution’s case in Court.
He was never allowed to say why he did it.” [defence lawyer Americk Sidhu]
These UMNO lawyers are therefore duty bound to explain why on earth they have considered it professionally appropriate to represent Sirul when their loyalties are so divided?
They should also explain who is paying for their services to ‘help’ Sirul?
Make no bones about it, hiring lawyers costs a very great deal of money and there is no evidence from Sirul’s close friends and family that these normal, simple folk have the slightest idea how his costs in this matter are being funded.
Nor how his family is surviving financially in Australia while he is in jail?
If his lawyers are acting pro-bono (for free), has that included them paying out for a private legal team in Australia, which now includes a barrister, solicitor and other experts? Because, we are talking serious dollars for such services.
Likewise, who paid for the two of them to come dashing over to Sydney last week to shut Sirul up and tell him it would be against his interests to speak to anyone, especially people linked to Dr Mahathir?
And all this is quite apart from the massive expenses incurred in the original trial of 165 days and the Appeal and Federal Court hearings.
These two lawyers should answer these questions, because, according to many experts, their advice has been distinctly suspect over the years in terms of fighting for Sirul’s own best interests – the person whom they are pledged to defend to the utmost extent of their professional abilities.
Indeed, it has appeared to these observers that the concerns of Sirul’s lawyers have been much more obviously focused towards keeping the spotlight of enquiry away from their UMNO boss, Najib Razak and all of those in the chain of command between him and the lowly bodyguards, who did not even know or recognise Altantuya, but say they were given orders to pull the trigger.
Notably, these lawyers had failed to call any evidence from key witnesses in the case, including their immediate commander, Musa Safri, whom Sirul testified had ordered them to kill Altantuya.
The Appeal Court judges noted that the prosecution had not called Musa Safri to the stand, which indicated that his evidence would not have assisted in their case against the two junior bodyguards.
In which case, it begs the question why did the Defence not call him either?
And why, when Altantuya’s cousin wanted to present a picture of her murdered relative taking dinner in the company of Najib Razak, did both the prosecution and the defence leap up together and demand that this evidence should not be brought?
The world knows that Sirul’s trial was nonsense.
Indeed, Sirul’s original barrister complained it was nonsense too. He abandoned the case, citing “excess interference” being exerted in the interest of ‘third parties”, before being replaced by this new UMNO team of lawyers and its mystery backers.
The judge and the prosecution team were also ham-fistedly replaced in the early stages of the trial, leaving a widespread impression that the entire process was being rigged to protect the VIPs who were known to be linked to Altantuya.
And it is this team of lawyers who have ‘loyally’ continued to ‘manage Sirul’s defence’ through this latest crisis in the case, which continues to threaten to derail the reputation of the most powerful man in Malaysia.
As one observer close to case told Sarawak Report:
“I conclude Sirul’s lawyers are trying to protect Najib. They are trying to silence Sirul. It is quite clear they have a conflict of interest and are more biased to protecting the powers that be and indeed the instigators of the murder than their client, the defendant. There are questions that ought to have been raised even post conviction, but their silence shows they don’t want the issue to re-surface. They know their client did not have full procedural fairness at the trial – so they should at least have moved to mitigate the culpability from murder to manslaughter. But, they have not tried. They did not pursue the question of motive in the original trial and even in the subsequent trial the issue was never raised. They dismissed motive as an issue. They did not pursue it. They acquiesced in that, which is clearly not normal for a criminal trial.”
Sirul is now relying on his Australian legal team to submit an application to fight his extradition to Malaysia on the grounds of granting a “Protection Visa” against the prospect of the death sentence awaiting him if he returns to Malaysia.
Those close to him say that he is distraught that he has been left to take the blame for carrying out orders as he had been trained to do – even of the most extreme nature as the bodyguard protecting the safety of a head of state.
“He was trained to pull the trigger and not to question orders relating to the security of the state. He was not the recipient of the direct order and the people who got this direct order are all sitting comfortably in Malaysia. The DSP has been promoted and given a Datukship and moved to a desk job and no one is trying to ask them anything. Rather, they are after the foot-soldiers at the bottom” says one person who has spoken to Sirul about his plight.
Sirul’s Australian legal team are now believed to be starting to apply (belatedly) for a ‘Protection Visa’ to enable him to stay in Australia in order to avoid the death sentence that awaits him in Malaysia.
If he is awarded the visa, will he be pressured into a bond of continuing silence as he continues to sit in an Australian jail facing life imprisonment for murder – if so, is that the best deal that Sirul can really get as his fellow ‘scapegoat’ is silenced in a different way back home?