Malaysian hitman should be sent home for new trial, Anwar Ibrahim says

PM-in-waiting wants Sirul Azhar Umar to be returned from detention in Australia

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A former Malaysian police commando sentenced to hanging but being held in detention in Australia should be sent home for a new trial, the country’s prime minister-in-waiting has urged.

Anwar Ibrahim, who made a political comeback from prison to win the country’s elections last month, wants to see Sirul Azhar Umar returned to Malaysia for a new trial over the 2006 murder of a Mongolian socialite, Altantuya Shaariibuu.

The pregnant 28-year-old, who was alleged to have connections to high-ranking Malaysian government officials, was shot twice before her body was blown up with plastic explosives in suburban Kuala Lumpur.

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Sirul, a former member of the elite unit that guards top Malaysian ministers, said he had been following orders from above.

Anwar, 70, said some Malaysians saw Australia’s foreign policy as complicit in the “corruption” that had led to Sirul’s sentencing. “You can’t have a trial when a person is detained elsewhere,” he told ABC radio on Friday.

He wants Australian authorities to allow Sirul, who is being held in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre, to return for a new trial “that’s clearly transparent”.

“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,” he said.

Sirul is trapped in limbo in detention as the Australian government will not send him back to face the death penalty in Malaysia. His application for a temporary protection visa that would allow him to enter the community has been rejected on character grounds.

Anwar also signalled his intention to visit Australia within weeks, saying he believed that relations between the two countries “must be excellent”.

The prime minster-in-waiting, who spent three years behind bars after being convicted of sodomy in a 2015 case he claimed was politically motivated, hopes to visit in late June or July. “I am now a free man,” he said. “I want to move on.”

Sirul has previously offered to return home to Malaysia and tell the full story of the execution, provided he were given a full pardon.

But on Wednesday, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian from the detention centre, Sirul said he wanted to remain in Australia. He said was the scapegoat in an elaborate political crime and that prosecutors in Malaysia had chosen not to call certain witnesses.

Sirul and a fellow bodyguard, Azila Hadri, were found guilty of the 2006 murder of Altantuya, who was the translator for, and lover of, Razak Baginda, one of the former prime minister Najib Razak’s close advisers.

The pregnant woman was abducted in front of Baginda’s Kuala Lumpur home and taken to a forest in Subang where she was shot twice with a semi-automatic weapon and her body blown up with military-grade explosives to dispose of DNA evidence from the foetus. She had allegedly demanded payment for her role in securing a French submarine deal.

Sirul said he had never confessed to the killing. “I bring her halfway along the road, I give her to Azila,” he said. He alleged that Azila had made up an alibi and told the court Sirul had been the last person with her. “I am not a bad person, but the case makes me out as bad,” Sirul said.

The pair were convicted in 2009 as co-conspirators under Malaysian law. Sirul said he had decided to visit Australia while on release awaiting an appeal. He claimed he was not fleeing justice.

Neither man knew the victim and rumours have circulated in Malaysia about who ordered the hit. Since being held in Villawood, Sirul has been visited by figures linked to both Najib’s UMNO party and the former opposition of Mahathir Mohamad. Azila is on death row in Malaysia.

A direct link between Najib and the murder has never been established, and the former leader has always denied knowing Altantuya or being involved in her murder.

Since this month’s election, however, the political landscape in Malaysia has shifted. Najib has been refused permission to leave the country and is under investigation for alleged corruption and other abuses of office.

• Anne Davies and Australian Associated Press contributed to this report

Guardian staff and agencies

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