In March last year the Australian Immigration Department released a statement denying that a video released by their ‘special detainee’ at Villawood had been recorded whilst he was in their security wing.
This would have been “impossible” their investigation concluded, saying that Sirul Azhar Umar must have made the video before he was taken into custory, even though he plainly referred in that video to developments in his own legal case, which had occured months after he was incarcerated.
The significance of this video in Sirul’s case cannot be over emphasised, because its contents have now been revealed as the determining factor in a decision by Australia’s immigration service to recommend the rejection his application for a Protection Visa, which would have allowed him the right to stay in Australia and get out of detention.
He is now looking instead at a future of indefinite limbo behind bars, thanks largely to his own statements made in that forbidden video, which the Australian border authorities still claim was not illegally produced at Villawood.
Explaining their decision last month, officials quoted directly from the media coverage about the video, saying it provided “unfavourable information which does not support your application”.
That media coverage described Sirul as having denied after all that he murdered Altantuya under orders; to be claiming instead that that those suggestions had been made up by elements the media in an attempt to topple Najib and worse, to be exhibiting no remorse for his victim. In a letter to Sirul dated 31st July, Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection cited some of these adverse reports:
“The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 13 February 2016 in regard to the murder:
Allegations that she was murdered to keep her quiet about purported kickbacks to high-level Malaysians have been the subject of intense speculation in Malaysia during Mr Najib’s seven years in the PM’s office.
In the videos obtained by Malaysiakini, Sirul showed no remorse for killing Ms Shaaribuu, who had threatened in a letter written before her death to expose corruption in the submarine deal.
Appearing to retreat from an earlier statement he made at Villawood that he committed the murder on the orders of “important people” in Malaysia, Sirul claimed in one of the videos that the media had attempted to use him to “topple and slander” and unnamed person – believed to be another reference to Mr Najib.”
Indeed, the functionary, who raised the issues about unfavourable information that did not support Sirul’s application, could not have put it more plainly that in this subsequent paragraph of his letter:
“I consider the above information to be relevant to my consideration whether s 36(2C)(a)(ii) applies to you, that is, whether I have serious reasons for considering that you have committed a serious non-political crime before entering Australia”.
In other words, by changing his story through this video Sirul succeeded in condemning himself through his own mouth. He was acting on advice that directly contradicted his own best interests.
Therefore, it is highly significant that Sarawak Report is now in a position to confirm what has long been suspected, which that the video was indeed produced by Sirul at the detention centre, thanks to lapses of security and protocol, which Villawood now appear to be covering up.
Thanks to extensive research made with numerous contacts, which has now been passed to Sarawak Report, it has now been established that not only was it entirely possible for Sirul to have made the video (which he has admitted to more than one person that he did) but that the Villawood management have now acknowledged in writing that they recently confiscated the smart phone he obtained to do it with – a device that detainees are not allowed to have.
In a letter addressed to “Mr Umar” dated 13th July 2017, Villawood’s Compliance Manager confirmed that in June she had confiscated two ‘mobile phones’ found in his room, since “such items were not permitted into the facility”.
Inmates are in fact allowed basic mobile phones, so it is plain from this letter that Sarawak Report’s separate information that Sirul had obtained at least one forbidden smart phone is correct.
According to a letter reviewed by Sarawak Report, Sirul complained about the confiscation and asked to get the item back, but was refused. The Villawood staff are now holding that phone along with his other possessions, pending any eventual release. Given the situation, the management must now ensure that this phone is not removed or tampered with as part of any further attempt to cover these matters up.
Using a smart phone, as everyone knows, it is perfectly possible to video oneself and then to send the video via whatsapp or similar application anywhere in the world to be uploaded onto the internet. Alternatively, it is equally possible to perform a live visual chat, which can be recorded the other end via skype.
Sarawak Report has heard via multiple sources that this is exactly what Sirul did after repeated encouragement from one regular visitor from Malaysia who saw him a number of times during the period between his incarceration and the production of the video. That visitor has been named as a lawyer with close contacts to the Prime Minister’s circle, but who is not a member of Sirul’s official legal team.
It has emerged that this individual was permitted regular access to see Sirul, whilst others, including family members, have faced difficulties and have usually been banned, owing to what Villawood has been known to describe as this detainee’s “unique particular circumstances” and “risk” factors.
According to people who have good reason to know, it was this visiting lawyer who encouraged Sirul to make the video and to include the specific statements exonerating the Prime Minister, as well as dismissing earlier claims, for example that the victim was pregnant.
Further separate sources have confirmed that the recording then found its way into the practiced hands of the ‘NGO leader’, Ramesh Rao, a champion of the Prime Minister, who specialises in getting ‘video confessions’ supporting his political agenda into the Malaysian media
Damningly, as far as Villawood is concerned, our sources have confirmed that the method by which Sirul obtained his crucial smart phone was via a member of staff, whom he was able to pay with money he had received. That action was illegal and ought to have been properly investigated by Villawood management, particularly since they have now acknowledged that they have identified and removed an illicit phone.
Sirul has made clear directly to people, who have since spoken to Sarawak Report, that he now bitterly regrets making the video, not least because he never received what he was promised in return, which he has indicated was a substantial payment along with his release:
“All he wants is to get out now, he doesn’t care about the money any more he just wants his freedom.”
one interlocutor has told Sarawak Report, after obtaining an opportunity to speak to Sirul very recently indeed.
Sirul now has a final chance to appeal the decision to reject his application, but unless the full story behind this video and the manipulation of this ‘unique’ prisoner is properly examined, his chances appear thin. This is all the more the case since he now appears to be in the process of sacking his legal team, according to the latest information received by Sarawak Report.
Sirul may have decided on this step because he feels he has been ill-served, given it was his own Malaysian and Australian legal team, who registered an acceptance that he had indeed committed a “non-political crime” with Altantuya’s murder, rather than supporting his earlier repeated claim that he was acting “under orders” from “important people”.
On the other hand, Sirul has also undermined his own denials thanks to this very video. Without an effective appeal managed by lawyers he has little chance of getting the rejection over-turned. That outcome could land the Australian taxpayer with an multi-million dollar bill and lose the prisoner himself the access to justice that every individual deserves.
The Swiss whistleblower Xavier Justo, who was jailed in Thailand, has told Sarawak Report that he sees striking parallels in this tangled situation with the pressure that was brought upon him to provide false confessions and contrived media interviews after he was arrested over leaking material about 1MDB.
Both men appear to have been caught up in attempts to exploit their desperate situations to persuade them to release statements ‘exonerating’ the Malaysian Prime Minister. Australia seems to have provided little more protection than Thailand against the influence of foreign power and money reaching into their judicial processes:
“It looks like they are manipulating him behind bars into incriminating himself, just like they did me. It is so terrifying to be in that position that you can be quite easily persuaded to try to “do a deal” because you think that the Malaysians have the power to control the situation. What Sirul needs is access to a totally independent Australian lawyer who can advise what’s best for him”
Justo has told Sarawak Report.
Instead, Villawood staff have used of what they describe as the “unique circumstances” and “risks” of the Malaysian’s case, to put their detainee into almost total isolation, placing extra scrutiny and barriers against normal rights of visitation.
We ask, is this about protecting their detainee or rather themselves from exposure over what happened with the video that ought never to have been released?
Xavier Justo has detailed how, like Sirul, he was also kept under exceptional conditions of extra vigilance by the Thai authorities, who he believes were collaborating with the firm PetroSaudi, in order to keep him from contacting anyone other than parties friendly to Najib who were paying to manage his case.
Justo was likewise pressured to make a self-incriminating confession (which ensured a hefty jail sentence) and then was later pressured to perform interviews with the press condemning Sarawak Report and others, all in return for promises of freedom and also financial help:
“It is hard to think clearly, when you are so scared. You try to please the person who has you in their complete power, because you hope they will let you go even though it is actually against their own interests to set you free”
explains Xavier, who was finally relased last Christmas after a campaign to get the Swiss Government to take up his case with the Thai authorities. He suspects that Sirul’s video was obtained in exactly the same way.
There is another striking parallel with Sirul’s legal representation in Malaysia and Australia, which like Xavier’s in Thailand has been funded by third parties, who seem closer to Najib than to the client himself.
It is a situation that plainly presents concerns over conflicts of interest, which the Australian authorities are duty bound to examine also in this case. How can it be accepted if a prisoner’s alleged support network is being funded by entities who would appear to benefit most from keeping him behind bars?
Sirul murdered a woman whom he didn’t know in cold blood back in Malaysia, a heinous crime by any standards. However, everyone has a right to fair representation and freedom from manipulation while facing justice. This bodyguard was working for people who plainly knew Altantuya and had a motive to kill Altantuya, whereas he did not. These parties ought to be allowed nowhere near his present legal case.
It is therefore high time that Australia’s authorities and the management of Villawood made a thorough investigation into this dodgy video, filmed while he was in their care and examined the management of his case.
This investigation ought to have begun the very day they found his illicit smart phone, along with a memory card which Sirul has asked to have returned. Does that card contain a dated copy of the video he made?
Whatever the diplomatic delicacies of the situation, Australia has no business protecting tyranny from abroad that is seeking to exercise influence and break the law within its own judicial borders. The investigation into the Villawood Video Cover-up needs to start now.