PAS red-faced over failed teleconference with Malaysian fugitive in Mongolian murder case

A teleconference by a fugitive police commando, who claims he was a scapegoat for the 2006 murder of the Mongolian girlfriend of a then-confidante of the Malaysian prime minister, failed to materialise on Monday morning as his purported phone number was unreachable at the agreed time.

Opposition Parti Islam seMalaysia (PAS) information chief Mahfuz Omar had arranged for Sirul Azhar Umarto, now being held in Sydney, to speak to the media in Malaysia at 11.30am on Monday about his conviction for the murder of Mongolian model and interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu. But calls to Sirul were directed to a voice mail and the teleconference had to be cancelled.

Questioned by the media, Mahfuz said he had sent a SMS message to Sirul minutes before the teleconference and had received a reply "Ok datuk".

The media was visibly disappointed and constantly questioned Mahfuz over the veracity of the phone number.

"I apologise for the inconvenience caused. The line might have been congested," he said. He also showed the media the SMS conversation on his handphone.

Mahfuz added that he will be going to Sydney with Sirul's mother next week to meet him.

The Star newspaper later reported that Sirul returned call about two hours after the teleconference was cancelled. He said he was still considering the right time to issue a statement regarding his conviction and his side of story.

Mahfuz told reporters that he had arranged the teleconference after Sirul's telephone interview with news portal Malaysiakini last week, asking the former policeman "to be fair to all media."

In the exclusive interview with Malaysiakini, Sirul said he never admitted to killing the 26-year-old Mongolian woman.

"I was under orders. The important people with motive are still free," Sirul told the news portal by telephone from Sydney, where he reportedly fled to last October and was arrested by Interpol last month.

Altantuya was at the centre of allegations of kickbacks in the US$1.1 billion (S$1.49 billion) purchase of French Scorpene submarines in 2002. She was involved in the negotiations for the deal. The man in charge of purchasing the submarines, Mr Abdul Razak Baginda, was her lover and a close associate of Najib Razak, then deputy prime minister.

Sirul and former chief inspector Azilah Hadri, 38, were found guilty by the High Court in 2009 of murdering Altantuya and blowing up her body. Both men were part of Najib's security detail at the time.

But the Appeals Court overturned the verdict in 2013 and freed the pair on grounds that the trial judge had failed, among other things, to call key witnesses to the stand.

Last month, however, the Federal Court upheld their conviction and death sentence.