KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday rejected accusations that Australia supported corruption and crime under Malaysia’s former leader by harboring a high-profile fugitive since 2015.
Malaysian prime minister-in waiting Anwar Ibrahim recently said in an interview with Australia’s ABC radio that some of Canberra’s foreign policies “clearly have been tainted” and viewed as “complicit to the tolerance of crimes, of corruption and also criminal action” by shielding wrongdoers like former policeman Sirul Azhar Umar.
Sirul, who was a former bodyguard of ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, fled to Australia after he was sentenced to death over the 2006 murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu. Her body was found blown up with explosives in a jungle after her yearlong affair with a friend of Najib ended.
Bishop said Sirul remained under immigration detention and that Malaysia has not made any extradition request.
“In the past, Australia has worked with the government of Malaysia of the day. For the past 61 years, it’s been the same government. If we were waiting for the new government, we would have been waiting for 61 years before dealing with Malaysia and that’s patently ridiculous,” she told a news conference after meeting Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is now Malaysia’s deputy prime minister.
Sirul’s case has posed a dilemma for Australia’s government, which cannot by law extradite someone who could face capital punishment.
His case cropped up again after the shocking defeat of Najib’s coalition in May 9 elections that ushered in Malaysia’s first transition of power since independence from Britain in 1957. Najib last month pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal breach of trust and abuse of power in a case linked to a massive corruption scandal in the 1MDB state fund that he set up but which accumulated billions in debts.
Malaysian police recently said they will reopen investigations into Shaariibuu’s gruesome murder after her father lodged a fresh complaint with the new government.
Bishop said she didn’t discuss Sirul’s case specifically with Wan Azizah but they talked about Malaysia’s plan in general to abolish the death penalty. Asked if Canberra will deport Sirul if Malaysia makes a request, she said she refused to “speculate” as there was no such application.
Bilateral relations were chilled for years after Canberra condemned Malaysia’s “barbaric” execution of two Australian heroin traffickers in 1986.
Sirul and another former policeman were initially convicted in 2009 of Shaariibuu’s murder but both won an appeal in 2013. The Supreme Court in 2015 upheld the initial High Court ruling. The prosecution contended that the murder of Shaariibuu was ordered by her former lover, Abdul Razak Baginda, a prominent defense analyst, after their affair ended.
The High Court in 2008 acquitted Abdul Razak, a married man and a former Najib confidante, of charges of abetting the murder.