A former Malaysian policeman, Sirul Azhar Umar, convicted in connection with the notorious 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, has been released from Australian immigration detention. Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old model and interpreter linked to ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, was found dead in a jungle on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, having been shot in the head and blown up with explosives.
Sirul Azhar Umar, who served as a bodyguard to Malaysia’s elite, fled to Australia in 2015 before the conclusion of his case. The murder case garnered widespread attention in Malaysia, with allegations of political interference and a subsequent trial that led to the conviction of Sirul Azhar Umar and another former police officer, Azilah Hadri, in 2009. Both were sentenced to death, and although they appealed the verdict, their sentences were upheld in 2015.
For almost nine years, Sirul Azhar Umar was held in Australian immigration detention after his asylum claim was rejected in 2019. His release follows a recent landmark ruling by Australia’s High Court that deemed indefinite immigration detention illegal, resulting in the unexpected release of several asylum seekers, some held on national security grounds.
Australia has decided not to deport Sirul Azhar Umar to Malaysia, citing a longstanding policy of not extraditing individuals to countries where they face execution. The case involving Altantuya Shaariibuu had implications for Malaysia’s political landscape, with accusations of interference by high-level officials, including ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has consistently denied any involvement in the murder.
Abdul Razak Baginda, a former associate of Najib Razak, was initially arrested for abetting the murder, but charges against him were dropped. Sirul Azhar Umar, in a cryptic statement, previously suggested that he was a “black sheep that has to be sacrificed” in the case, leading to various political conspiracies.
Campaign groups have alleged that Altantuya Shaariibuu was murdered to prevent her from disclosing purported kickbacks to high-level Malaysian officials. Earlier this year, Malaysia’s parliament voted to remove the country’s mandatory death penalty, but Sirul Azhar Umar’s co-accused, Azilah Hadri, remains on death row.