Malaysian convicted of Mongolian model murder held in Australia: Report

Sirul Azhar Umar, former police corporal, was convicted of the 2006 killing of 28-year-old Altantuya Shaariibuu. -- PHOTO: CHINA PRESS
Sirul Azhar Umar, former police corporal, was convicted of the 2006 killing of 28-year-old Altantuya Shaariibuu. -- PHOTO: CHINA PRESS
Sirul Azhar Umar had been picked up by immigration officials in the state of Queensland. -- PHOTO: INTERPOL
Sirul Azhar Umar had been picked up by immigration officials in the state of Queensland. -- PHOTO: INTERPOL

SYDNEY (AFP) - A Malaysian police officer sentenced to hang over the killing of a Mongolian model in a sensational scandal linked to corruption allegations has been detained in Australia, a report said on Wednesday.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said Sirul Azhar Umar, convicted of the 2006 killing of 28-year-old Altantuya Shaariibuu, had been picked up by immigration officials in the state of Queensland.

The Immigration Department would not confirm that Sirul was in detention, but said it was holding a person of interest to Malaysian authorities.

"The department detained an unlawful non-citizen yesterday in Brisbane," an Immigration and Border Protection spokeswoman told AFP by email.

"The department is aware of the Malaysian authorities' interest in this individual, however due to privacy reasons, cannot comment further."

Altantuya's remains were found in a jungle clearing near Kuala Lumpur after apparently being shot and her corpse blown up with military-grade explosives.

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

The pair were later released when an appeals court overturned the conviction in 2013 after raising questions about how their trial was conducted.

But last week, Malaysia's highest court upheld their death sentences over the killing.

After the decision, a shocked-looking Azilah was led out of the courtroom, but Sirul's defence team said they did not know his whereabouts and an arrest warrant was issued.

Malaysia has called for Sirul's extradition, but Australian media reported he will not be sent back as Canberra forbids returning suspects to a country where they may face the death penalty.

Malaysian officials have since suggested they may sue Australia over the matter.

Malaysian media reports have said Sirul is believed to have been in Australia since November.

Malaysian government critics have long alleged that Sirul and Azilah were scapegoats in the killing of Altantuya, who was at the centre of allegations of massive kickbacks in the US$1.1 billion (S$1.47 billion) 2002 purchase of French Scorpene submarines.

Altantuya was involved in negotiations for the submarines.

Adding to the intrigue, she was a lover of Abdul Razak Baginda - the man in charge of purchasing the submarines and a close associate of current Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was defence minister at the time of the deal.

Allegations have simmered for years that Altantuya was murdered to keep her quiet about purported kickbacks to high-level Malaysian officials.