ABDUL RAZAK BAGINDA Freed! Freed? Freed.

SHAH ALAM: Political analyst Abdul Razak Abdullah Baginda (pictured) walked out of the High Court a free man yesterday after two years of standing trial for abetment in the murder of a Mongolian woman.

The High Court acquitted him without calling for his defence. But two policemen tried for the murder of the woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu, were ordered to make their defence. Both Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, 32, and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, 36, of the Special Action Squad (UTK), will make their defence on November 10.

Tears of joy and sadness flowed freely yesterday in the courtroom after High Court Judge Datuk Mohd Zaki Md Yasin delivered his decision. Abdul Razak, 48, was acquitted of the charge of abetment in the murder of 28-year-old Altantuya in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur between 9.54 am on October 18 and 9.45am on October 19 2006.

Azilah and Sirul Azhar are charged with the murder of Altantuya at a location between lots 12843 and 16735 in the Mukim of Bukit Raja here between 10pm on October 19 and 1am on October 20, 2006. Emotion gripped the family of Abdul Razak after Zaki ruled that he found no prima facie case for the Malaysia Strategic Research Centre executive director to answer.

“Prima facie” in Latin refers to a case with sufficient and a minimum amount of evidence necessary to allow it to continue in the judicial process. Zaki said the entire content of Abdul Razak’s affidavit containing exculpatory statements should be accepted and given due weight. Exculpatory statements are those made by a defendant or accused which tend to clear a defendant/accused from alleged guilt, or are statements which tend to justify or excuse his/her actions or presence.

Abdul Razak, clad in a sky blue striped shirt, at first looked as if he could not believe what the judge had said but his expression changed to “a sigh of relief” and broad smiles.

Tears of joy were shed by Abdul Razak’s wife Mazlina Makhzan, his daughter Rowena and other family members, all of whom rushed to embrace Abdul Razak after the verdict was announced.

Abdul Razak did not respond to requests by the media to comment on his acquittal. He left the court premises on the fourth floor of the building via a rear staircase.

On the other hand, Azilah and Sirul Azhar were shocked, sad and disappointed at the court’s decision. Gloom replaced their hopes of being freed. Three options of defence are available to them—to testify under oath, to give a statement from the dock or to remain silent. Both men chose to give evidence under oath.

Due weight would be given to an accused person who chooses to testify under oath, where the accused person could be crossed-examined by the prosecution. Lesser weight would be given to evidence given through a statement from the dock where there will be no cross-examination by the prosecution. If an accused person remains silent, he or she would be convicted and punished according to the penalty set out in the section under which the accused is charged. In this case, it is the mandatory death sentence.

In his judgment, Zaki accepted the statements given by both Azilah and Sirul Azhar to the police as part of evidence. Azilah gave a statement disclosing the location where Altantuya was shot and her body blown up while Sirul Azhar disclosed to the police where the jewellery belonging to Altantuya was hidden.

“I am satisfied that there is a prima facie case for the first accused (Azilah) and the second accused (Sirul Azhar) to answer as charged. I therefore now call both the first and the second accused persons to enter upon their defence,” he said. Altantuya, who had two sons aged four and 10, had attended high school in Russia and had had training as a teacher and translator in English and Russian at the National University of Mongolia.

Her murder had been described as most gruesome because her body was blown up with explosives. Forensic experts had found pieces of flesh and bone scattered over an area in Puncak Alam here.

The case received wide coverage because Altantuya had reportedly come to Malaysia to look for Abdul Razak who allegedly had an affair with her. It took 151 days for the prosecution to present its evidence through 84 witnesses. However, the trial was further delayed when the defence challenged the admissibility of certain confession statements of the two policemen to the police and a trial-within-a-trial was held to determine their admissibility.

Judge Zaki took about 25 minutes from 9.40am to deliver his judgement. The court was then adjourned for about 15 minutes for the parties to decide on the date for Azilah and Sirul Azhar to make their defence.

When the case was called up once again, the judge was keen to hear the accused defence but set November 10 after counsel for Azilah, Datuk Hazman Ahmad, and counsel for Sirul Azhar, Kamarul Hisham Kamaruddin, sought time. Hazman informed the court that he may call six to seven witnesses while Kamarul Hisham said he wanted to call blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin to testify and recall private eye P. Balasubramaniam to the stand.

Raja Petra is being detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA). He had made a statutory declaration linking a top politician and his wife to the murder. Balasubramaniam had also made a similar statutory declaration but retracted it three days later in another sworn statement.

The court also allowed Abdul Razak’s counsel, Wong Kian Kheong, to act as watching brief counsel during the defence stage of the trial. – Bernama

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