Malaysian convict on death row could be detained in Sydney indefinitely: Experts

Former Malaysian police commando Sirul Azhar Umar, who was sentenced to death in absentia in his country for the murder of a Mongolian interpreter, could be held in a Sydney detention centre indefinitely, experts have said. -- PHOTO: THE ST
Former Malaysian police commando Sirul Azhar Umar, who was sentenced to death in absentia in his country for the murder of a Mongolian interpreter, could be held in a Sydney detention centre indefinitely, experts have said. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK 

SYDNEY - A Malaysian police commando sentenced to death in absentia in his country could be held in a Sydney detention centre indefinitely, experts have said.

Under Australian law, Sirul Azhar Umar, 43, cannot be extradited due to the death sentence and cannot be let free because of the murder conviction against him, leaving him in legal limbo, Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The former bodyguard of Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, has been convicted of the murder of a Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu, who had reportedly begged for the life of her unborn baby before she was shot twice in the head, wrapped in plastic explosives and blown up on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur in 2006.

She was involved in the negotiations of purchase of French Scorpene submarines in 2002, a deal which is shrouded in allegations of massive kickbacks to officials.

Sirul and fellow accused Azilah Hadri, both members of an elite unit that guards top ministers, denied killing Altantuya, but were convicted in 2009 and sentenced to hang.

The pair were later released when an appeals court overturned the conviction in 2013. But earlier this month Malaysia's highest court upheld their death sentences over the killing. Azilah is in custody, but Sirul's defence team said they did not know his whereabouts and an arrest warrant was issued. He had been picked up by immigration officials in the state of Queensland.

He has been transferred to Villawood detention centre in Sydney's western suburbs, Canberra forbids repatriating suspects who face the death penalty.

"It is an unlawful arbitrary detention," said lawyer Mr Dan Mori, who agreed with the views of Ben Saul, a professor of international law at the University of Sydney, that Sirul cannot be extradited and cannot be let free, leaving him in legal limbo.

There are 55 cases of indefinite detainment without charge in Australia. They are defined by an "adverse ASIO assessment that puts them at risk to the community", said Professor Saul.

"According to the UN, it is absolutely clear that in these cases of indefinite detainment Australia is in breach of International law," said Professor Saul. "But this is an easier option than dragging a foreign national through the criminal courts," SMH quoted him as saying.

Australia's Department of Immigration and the Attorney-General's department have declined to comment on the Sirul case.

Malaysia has said it will take legal action in Australia if the government does not extradite Sirul under an extradition treaty between the two countries.

The only course of appeal remaining for Sirul is for a Malaysian sultan to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment, which could reopen the possibility of extradition.