SYDNEY - A fugitive Malaysian police commando sentenced to death for the murder of a Mongolian woman linked to Malaysia's controversial submarine deal has made a final appeal to Australian authorities not to reject his application for a protection visa, saying he faces a "very real prospect" of execution if deported.
Lawyers for Sirul Azhar Umar, 46, made the appeal in response to a formal notice from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that it was poised to refuse the Malaysian's application for a protection visa because he had committed a "serious non-political crime" before entering Australia, The Australian reported on Wednesday (Aug 16).
Sirul and another police commando Azilah Hadri, who guarded VVIPs including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, were sentenced to death in 2009 for the murder of Mongolian translator and model Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006.
The victim was at the centre of alleged multi-million-dollar kickbacks in the 2002 purchase of French submarines when Najib was defence minister. Government critics and anti-corruption activists have long alleged that the two bodyguards were ordered by higher-ups to kill Altantuya, possibly to silence her, Agence France-Presse reported.
The Malaysian prime minister has repeatedly denied any involvement in Altantuya's murder.
Sirul jumped bail and fled to Brisbane in October 2014 as Malaysia's federal court was considering whether to reinstate his conviction, overturned on appeal, for the abduction and killing of the Mongolian woman. He was reconvicted and sentenced to death by hanging in absentia in January 2015, and days later, he was detained by Australian immigration authorities for having overstayed his visa.
Sirul had maintained during his trial that he was made a scapegoat to protect powerful individuals involved in the abduction and murder, The Australian reported. In February last year, he issued three videos from Sydney's Villawood detention centre exonerating Najib of any link to Altantuya or her murder.
Under Australian law, the government is obliged to grant a protection visa when the applicant faces serious human rights violation or when there is real risk of arbitrary deprivation of life, according to the report. But the applicant is rendered ineligible for protection if he or she has committed a war crime or crime against humanity or a serious non-political crime before entering Australia, or considered a danger to the Australian community.