SYDNEY (REUTERS) – A fugitive Malaysian policeman convicted of the grisly murder of a Mongolian model has lost a bid for asylum in Australia, where he has been held since 2015, raising the prospect he could be eventually deported.
Sirul Azhar Umar and another police officer, Azilah Hadri, were sentenced to death after being found guilty in Malaysia of the murder of 28-year-old Altantuya Shaariibuu, an interpreter to a former associate of ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Ms Shaariibuu was reportedly blown up with military grade explosives in a forest on the outskirts of Malaysia’s capital in 2006 in a case shrouded in mystery 13 years later.
Sirul was arrested and has been held in an Australian immigration detention centre since January 2015, after fleeing Malaysia shortly before the verdict was handed down.
He lost his bid for asylum on Monday (Feb 18) when the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Sydney upheld an earlier ruling that he had committed a “non-political” crime in Malaysia and so was not entitled to protection in Australia.
“None of the findings made by the courts in Malaysia suggested that the crime in question was a political one,” Tribunal Deputy President Brian Rayment said in a written decision first reported by Australian media on Wednesday (Feb 20).
Sirul can appeal but his lawyers said they had not yet been instructed to do so. Nor had Sirul been served with any extradition request or deportation notice, they said. Sirul could not be reached for comment.
He and Azilah were serving as members of Najib’s personal security detail at the time of the murder, but the question of who ordered the killing has never been answered.
Since Najib’s spectacular defeat at last year’s general election, Malaysian police have re-opened the case and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said his government could revoke Sirul’s death penalty to make way for his extradition.
Under Australian law, Sirul can only be deported if he does not face the death penalty. A spokesman for the Australian attorney-general said the government did not comment publicly on extradition cases.
Ms Shaariibuu had worked as a translator on a US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) Malaysian deal to buy French submarines. The deal was mired in allegations of bribery and kickbacks.
She had also been having an affair with Mr Abdul Baginda Razak, a close confidante of Najib, who was Malaysia's deputy prime minister at the time.
Sirul, a former police corporal, maintains his innocence. He says he was ordered by his superiors to carry out the killing and has never said who wanted Ms Shaariibuu killed or why.
Ms Shaariibuu's family is hoping Sirul's return will shed light on who ordered her killing.
Last month, Ms Altantuya's father launched a civil case against the two Malaysian bodyguards, her former lover, and the Malaysian Government.
It has long been speculated that Ms Shaariibuu was killed to stop her exposing the bribes allegedly paid during the submarine sale to close confidantes of Najib.