Malaysia deports arrested Aussie newsmen

ABC cameraman Eroglu (left) and reporter Besser (with trolley bag) at Kuching International Airport, Sarawak, yesterday. Earlier, they had been told they would face a criminal charge that could land them in jail for two years.
ABC cameraman Eroglu (right) and reporter Besser (with trolley bag) at Kuching International Airport, Sarawak, yesterday. Earlier, they had been told they would face a criminal charge that could land them in jail for two years.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

They were detained after trying to ask PM Najib questions; case threatened to embarrass KL govt

Two Australian journalists arrested in Sarawak for trying to question Prime Minister Najib Razak over alleged graft, were deported from Malaysia yesterday, just hours after being told they would face a criminal charge that could land them in jail for two years.

Instead of appearing in court for "obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his public functions", Mr Linton Besser and cameraman Louie Eroglu arrived in Singapore yesterday afternoon, ending a four-day saga during which they were prevented from leaving the Borneo state.

The outcome has defused what was threatening to become both a diplomatic and political embarrassment for the embattled Malaysian leader, after Canberra raised its concerns with Malaysia over the reporters' detention.

On Saturday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) team was arrested after attempting to get a response from Datuk Seri Najib. They were said to have crossed a security line and approached the Prime Minister, who was on an official visit to a mosque.

Hours before, the two journalists had attended a press conference in Kuala Lumpur about the controversial 2006 murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was also linked to the Premier.

On Monday night, the duo were told they were to appear in court to face charges, but a few hours later, were told to complete some paperwork before being deported.

The Sarawak police said in a statement early yesterday they received instructions from the public prosecutor that no charges would be filed against the two.

At Kuching airport, Mr Besser said he was "relieved it's all over".

"There's been a lot of changing events. It's been a roller coaster, but it's almost over. We just have to get on this flight," he said, adding that he was unsure if they would complete their story on corruption claims involving Mr Najib.

In a sign that Kuala Lumpur was distancing itself from the flap, which came with accusations that the Najib administration was clamping down on negative media coverage, Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamad appeared to lay the blame on Sarawak's state government, which has autonomy over immigration.

"Immigration matters relating to Sarawak is under the Chief Minister and state government. That's why the federal government does not interfere. If they come back as tourists, then there's no problem," he told reporters.

The widow of late private eye P. Balasubramaniam - who watched over Ms Altantuya just before she was killed - had on Saturday stood by her husband's claim that Mr Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor were responsible for the Mongolian's death, under intense questioning from Mr Besser at a press conference.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly denied any involvement in Ms Altantuya's murder; two policemen were eventually convicted of the crime. He has also denied graft allegations over US$700 million (S$965 million) found in his personal accounts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysia deports arrested Aussie newsmen'. Print Edition | Subscribe