Malaysia may commute the death sentence handed down to a former police commando convicted of the gruesome murder of a Mongolian woman, so that the man could return home from Australia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday.
"We may cancel the death sentence on him but replace it with a jail term so he can return to Malaysia," Tun Dr Mahathir told a news conference, referring to Sirul Azhar Umar, who is in Australian custody.
When asked if this meant that the government would reopen the case, he said: "We are being asked to look into it, and we are looking.
"Sirul will not come back because he will be hanged if he comes back. When we reduce the sentence... to maybe a life sentence or whatever, maybe he will come back."
Sirul is being held at an Australian immigration centre and Canberra will not let him return to Malaysia because of the death sentence.
Dr Mahathir was replying to questions about a report in British newspaper The Guardian citing an unnamed source as saying that the Australian authorities have approved a request from Malaysia to extradite Sirul, and that the plan had been given the green light after Malaysia agreed to cover the costs.
The report said Sirul is believed to be able to leave Australia within a month.
However, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia had not requested Sirul's extradition, contrary to the report.
Sirul and his fellow police commando Azilah Hadri were sentenced to death in 2009, over the killing of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006.
They had driven her to a jungle clearing in Shah Alam, Selangor, where she was shot and blown to pieces with military-grade explosives.
Sirul denied he carried out the killing. He claimed he was acting on orders from his superiors and only drove Ms Altantuya to the scene of the murder.
The two men were part of an elite police unit guarding VVIPs, including then-Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, at the time of the murder.
The gruesome murder and subsequent trial of the two men have led to all kinds of speculation over why Ms Altantuya was killed.
This was partly because the 28-year-old was allegedly the lover of political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, a former associate of Datuk Seri Najib.
She had apparently been demanding money from Mr Abdul Razak when she was taken away in a car by the two commandos and killed.
In 2013, Malaysia's Court of Appeal overturned the death sentences. But upon the prosecution's appeal, the sentences were upheld by the apex federal court.
Sirul had by then fled to Australia.
On May 16 - a week after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition won the general election - Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga wrote to Dr Mahathir to ask him to help bring about justice in the case of Ms Altantuya.
Top PH leader Anwar Ibrahim has suggested that Sirul be brought back to Malaysia for a fresh trial. "You have to allow for due process to take place and Malaysian authorities may seek Australia's cooperation just to make sure there's a fair trial," Datuk Seri Anwar said last week.
Meanwhile, Ms Altantuya's father Setev Shaariibuu has said he is planning to visit Malaysia and to call on Dr Mahathir, Malaysiakini news site reported yesterday.