INTERVIEW The following is the writer’s exclusive interview with ES Shankar, author of ‘Murdered In Malaysia: The Altantuya Story’
Antares: When did the idea of writing ‘Murdered in Malaysia: The Altantuya Story’ first occur to you? How long did the process take till completion?
Shankar: The idea was planted in my head by my cousin in June 2014. Like me, he was outraged that here was an open-and-shut case of a massive cover-up being so obviously orchestrated by the State, and no one was doing anything to expose it. People with no motive whatsoever were being convicted of murder.
The entire machinery of justice - the police, attorney-general (AG), prosecutors, defence lawyers and the judiciary - had allegedly been subverted and hopelessly undermined and compromised by Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor, and yet the citizens seemed powerless to stop this travesty of justice.
I shot off the opening chapter the day following that conversation with my cousin. The outline of that chapter is pretty much as you see it now, relying on my memory, as I had been writing about the Altantuya murder at my blog for several years.
I completed the book in March 2015. I could have completed it earlier, but between October and December 2014, I had writer’s block and also got stuck on how to retrieve voluminous High Court trial transcripts.
Antares : Were you able to gather any data directly from individuals linked to the drama or did you have to rely entirely on Internet research?
Shankar : No, I conducted no interviews, as I did not wish to alert anyone about this dangerous project, especially government authorities. Most of the material was gathered from Internet research and blogs.
Antares : You mentioned at the start of the book that there were rumors of Altantuya Shaariibuu being a foreign agent, part of a honeytrap sting operation. Did you come across any further evidence that this may have been the case? Or do you believe she was merely misguided in the kind of company she kept?
Shankar : The source of this possible foreign agent suspicion is from a certain Gopal Raj’s blog. Full details of this blog post is in Appendix 22 of MIM.
My gut feeling tells me that Altantuya meeting Abdul Razak Baginda was no coincidence or chance encounter. Given what had transpired with DCNS and the submarines scandals and murders in Taiwan and Pakistan, there is a strong possibility that someone in France recruited Altantuya with the intention of seducing Abdul Razak Baginda.
After all, Abdul Razak Baginda was never a philandering husband or playboy before, did not have cash to burn and does not exactly have Hollywood or Bollywood looks, does he?
French investigators also found documents which incriminate Abdul Razak Baginda with leaking official secrets concerning the Navy’s procurement specifications and plans for which he was paid RM142 million.
So, it is not beyond the pale that DCNS once again recruited a femme fatale, this time Altantuya, to compromise Abdul Razak Baginda, as they did with Lily Liu in the Taiwan scandal.
The complication arises from PI Bala’s Statutory Declaration, where he claims Najib introduced Altantuya to Baginda. So, was Najib compromised in some way by the French as well? Scary thought, but interesting, isn’t it?
Antares : Did you have the opportunity to speak with PI Balasubramaniam before his suspiciously timed fatal heart attack a week before he was scheduled to go on the road with the Altantuya saga? If so, what did you learn from this personal contact?
Shankar : No, I never met or spoken to PI Bala ( photo ) or his wife.
But, having read all the newspaper and online news portal articles, blogs and watched every single connected YouTube video, my honest opinion is that there was nothing suspicious about PI Bala’s heart attack and subsequent death.
Conspiracy theorists may beg to differ, but during that period he was constantly in the company of friends and family. The people linked to Altantuya’s murder may be at home with guns, bullets and C4 explosives. But crediting them with inducing remote-controlled coronary failures with or without chemicals and/or poison, would be far-fetched.
Of course in superstition-bound Malaysia, Deepak Jaikishan’s book about Rosmah’s witchcraft and bomoh sorties and escapades cannot be totally ignored!
Antares : There have been numerous U-turns made by various individuals linked to the case: first there was the dramatic withdrawal of PI Bala’s incendiary statutory declaration of 1st July 2008, followed by a second statutory declaration on July 4 which glaringly omitted all references to Najib Razak.
Then there was Raja Petra Kamarudin’s (RPK) shocking appearance on TV3 in April 2011 where he backpedalled on his explosive June 18, 2008 statutory declaration naming Rosmah Mansor as an active party to the execution of the Mongolian woman.
Following that we had Deepak Jaikishan’s titillating series of media conferences wherein he revealed his own role in the dramatic damage control exercise following PI Bala’s first SD, in the process implicating Najib Abdul Razak’s brother Nazim, as well as Cecil Abraham, a senior legal counsel, in the cover-up.
Shortly after Deepak’s public confessions, there were reports of shady land deals involving Umno bigwigs who had attempted to shortchange Deepak, thereby prompting him to spill the beans. In the aftermath, Deepak Jaikishan abruptly vanished from public view, and even the Bar Council's disciplinary hearing on Cecil Abraham's alleged role in the cover-up eventually evaporated into thin air.
Do you believe money was the common denominator in all these high-profile U-turns? Or might there have been ominous threats involved?
Shankar : We have to look at each case separately.
PI Bala was certainly coerced into withdrawing SD1. His wife and children’s lives were also threatened. They were bundled out of Malaysia to Singapore, Thailand, and then India, within 24 hours of SD1. Who has the power to do that in Malaysia? Who has the power to alter immigration records, as testified to by Altantuya’s cousin?
No doubt PI Bala, finding himself in a Catch-22 situation, tried to make some money in the circumstances he was thrust into. But, his primary motivation in pointing the finger at Najib and others was never money.
RPK’s son Azman who was in prison on trumped-up charges of theft had claimed he was being tortured in prison and had attempted suicide. The relationship between father and long-lost son may have been tenuous. But, it would have taken a cold-hearted father of stone to ignore a son’s dire predicament in that situation. Whatever deal RPK made with Najib, the result was his son was freed and found his way to safety soon in London.
But everyone must remember that in RPK’s original SD, he clearly did not say what everyone thought he did. The opening sentence there clearly starts with “I have been reliably informed...”
He was clearly saying he only had second-hand knowledge of the accusations against Najib and Rosmah. So, he can’t really be faulted for everyone’s presumption. Of course he could have clarified it later, instead of allowing the apparent misunderstanding to mushroom internationally, but did nothing to dampen opinions that Najib and Rosmah were guilty.
When he attempted to do so in the 2011 TV3 interview, he of course lost credibility and respect. Legions of his fans dumped him forever.
What we should now take seriously are Deepak’s ( photo ) numerous accusations implicating Najib and Rosmah in Altantuya’s murder and in coercing PI Bala to recant SD1.
Deepak belongs in that exclusive class of Malaysia’s amoral Alibaba fraudtrepreneurs. Money is his only credo. He was investigated by MACC and Bank Negara and came out with guns blazing that he was fronting for Najib and Rosmah.
But, so far he has not been sued by Najib or Rosmah for his accusatory YouTube videos, Black Rose 1.0, witchcraft book etc. So, the public are entitled to assume that Najib and Rosmah are guilty.
We can also assume that Deepak has the real goods on Najib and Rosmah, for how else can he still be walking tall and free?
Deepak did not vanish. He got married in 2014 and probably needed some private time to think things out, given the additional family baggage and responsibility.
He also came out last year saying he was prepared to testify against Najib and Rosmah under oath if he were granted full immunity.
In recent days, it has emerged that Deepak has decided not to contest the civil case filed against him by PI Bala’s wife, represented by solicitor Americk Sidhu. This basically means that all that PI Bala had stated in SD1 is true and Deepak concurs that Najib and Rosmah were absolutely behind PI Bala’s disappearance and withdrawal of SD1.
As for the Bar Council’s ongoing inquiry into Cecil Abraham’s possible misconduct - illegally drafting PI Bala’s SD2 - we are still waiting for a public announcement of its verdict. The delay is annoying, but no doubt they will come out with some statement like “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine” - or something boring like that.
Antares : There are hundreds of interwoven threads around the Altantuya murder case involving complexities within complexities. How were you able to gather these seemingly disparate threads and re-weave them into a coherent, readable narrative? Did you use index cards or special software to keep the data organised and accessible?
Shankar : No, it’s nothing special. I did it the old-fashioned way that has much to do with my UK (London) accountancy training as what in those days was referred to as an ‘articled clerk’. I went about it methodically, downloaded and organised articles and links in folders in my Dell laptop, and made copious notes in an old diary. I then read and re-read them many, many times to gather and understand it all.
Fortunately, I have an analytical brain that can (no, I don’t have a photographic memory) accommodate and retain a vast array of information, recall and search out the threads, and often make connections, and write them out in a logical and fairly readable manner.
Antares : Please give us a brief summary of your career prior to your embarking on your current vocation as an author of controversial books?
Shankar : I must first tell you that during my schooldays, Mokhtar Dahari, Malaysia’s greatest footballer, was in the same year in Victoria Institution (VI) as I was. We both played for the Victoria Institution U/15 first eleven. We even used to cycle home together. This is something I have always been proud of and can never forget.
I am what is called a P/Q accountant (part qualified). I did not get through all my final Chartered Accountancy (ICAEW) exam papers way back in the 1980’s. On returning to Malaysia, I worked as the financial controller and later CEO in a leading private company. After stints at business development at two real estate Plcs, and a brief stint as a consultant at a Plc, I quit working in 2009, to embark on full-time writing.
Like so many, I was outraged by the kangaroo courts and crooked trials in the persecution of Anwar Ibrahim. I decided I had to do something to stop Malaysia from becoming a police state and embarked on satire and sopo blogging, as writing was my forte. The threads of my various blog posts led to ‘Tiger Isle: A Government of Thieves’ published by Gerakbudaya Enterprise.
However, ‘Tiger Isle’ was not my first book. In 2011 I collated all my blog posts from my VI blog (about my schooldays between 1966-1972) and self-published them as a hard-cover book titled ‘Let Us Now With Thankfulness’. Sales were surprisingly brisk.
I have a great interest in Malaysian history, and have written articles about Parameswara, Hang Li Po, etc., based on the Sejarah Melayu, and a short piece titled A Brief History of the Peoples of Malaya.
Besides that, I read everything I can get my hands on about cosmology, quantum theory and phenomena (so far I have understood perhaps about 30 percent, probably less, of what I’ve read). My other hobbies besides reading are cricket, football and music (very eclectic taste as in books).
Surprisingly, no unwanted attention
Antares : Your debut novel, ‘Tiger Isle: A Government of Thieves’, was published in late 2012. It depicts a fictional kleptocracy broadly inspired by actual events and characters in Malaysia. Was the book well-received by the public and did it result in any unwanted attention from the Malaysian secret police?
Shankar : Yes, the initial print was well received and sold out. But, there have been no reprint orders, despite the fact that ‘Tiger Isle’ won the 3rd prize for fiction in the STAR/Popular national literary awards. Booker prize winner Tan Twan Eng’s ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ was placed 2nd!
As for unwanted attention from the Special Branch, no, I received none. I was told by some informed bloggers that the standard of English is so poor in Malaysia nowadays, that a satire/fiction novel in English would fly way below the radar of Najib’s thugs and goons.
Antares : Was ‘Murdered in Malaysia’ (MIM) written in Malaysia or when you were living abroad? Did you go into voluntary exile because you anticipated unpleasant consequences if you remained in the country? Or were you already planning to migrate anyway?
Shankar : MIM was conceived and completed wholly in Malaysia.
I went overseas only in September of this year, as clearly, I feared for my safety and life once the book was published. I am no Mandela, and as someone recently said, you can’t do much fighting from the inside of a prison.
I have never contemplated emigrating. Malaysia has always been my home. If the coast was clear, I would return home in a flash.
Antares : From all the evidence already on hand it would appear that the only reasonable conclusion we can arrive at is that there has been a colossal cover-up to protect the most powerful couple in the nation.
With the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the chief of police actively collaborating to suppress a potential resurrection of the Altantuya case - and with the Scorpene investigation in France yielding no further results after several years - do you envisage any unforeseen breakthroughs that might lead to a final denouement in this gruesome drama?
Shankar : No one must be allowed to get away with murder. No one. In the Altantuya killing, we also have the added spice of corruption involving the RM7.5 billion Scorpene submarines, treason and perversion of the course of justice by Najib and Rosmah. The Navy, police, AG and judiciary are all allegedly involved in this travesty of justice.
No, we must keep pressing till Najib is thrown out of office, and a truly independent royal commission of inquiry is instituted to lift us out of the clutches of this government of murderers and thieves.
Antares : One of the convicted assassins is currently detained by Australian immigration, while the other is presumably still in prison pending execution. Do you feel there might be a possibility that either or both may decide to go public with their stories and tell all?
Shankar : I doubt either will talk any more. Azilah has remained silent from day one. We can safely assume that whatever deal was struck between him and Najib/Rosmah, it has been honoured and he will go to the gallows as his part of the bargain. Of course, there is talk (not to be discounted) that eventually, he will receive a royal pardon.
Sirul has now made the startling admission that it was Abdul Razak Baginda who pulled the trigger. Despite that, our worthless and political inspector-general of police (IGP) insists that there is no new evidence to re-open the murder investigations. Should he not be hung by his goolies?
I also believe that Sirul is using his safe position in Australia to canvass for money from Najib. He has asked for A$15 million to keep his gap shut. No, he will never go public with so much money at stake.
Another monumental scandal
Antares : In recent months another monumental scandal has erupted in the form of 1MDB. Do you feel this massive financial debacle has eclipsed the Altantuya murder? Many who seemed apathetic to seeing justice being done in the Mongolian murder case now appear to be galvanised into action by the prospect of being held liable to a public debt of unprecedented proportions.
Does this suggest to you that money remains the bottom line - not ethics, morality, or justice?
Shankar : No, the Altantuya murder has not been forgotten in Malaysia or in the rest of the world. Do remember that PI Bala’s civil case against PM Najib and his two brothers, Rosmah, etc, is not over. I would bet my bottom dollar that Americk Sidhu and his team will not let up even if our judges continue to place obstacles in their way.
Do not forget that the 101 East team from Al Jazeera is keeping close tabs on every development of the case - as is Sarawak Report, The Wall Street Journal, Asia Sentinel, The Economist , and one or two leading newspapers in Australia.
The 1MDB fraud and fiasco is godsent. It has furnished us firm, additional evidence that Najib is a serial liar and thief, and is unfit to be the prime minister of even a fourth world state. His statement that RM2.6 billion deposited in his personal bank account was a ‘donation from a friendly Arab party’ has provoked intense anger and outrage among Malaysians as never before.
The real problem in Malaysia is public apathy created by Najib and his minions with our descent into a police state. The well-off fear loss of their accumulated wealth and comforts. The silent majority have that ‘let that other guy fight for our rights’ attitude. If push comes to shove, they will either sulk in silence or emigrate. So, ethics and morality are forced to take a back seat while the nation burns.
Antares : History tells us that the few good men and women will have to lead and make the sacrifices.
Shankar : As a relatively young independent nation, we have a long way to go before ethics, justice, moral and human rights issues take precedence over money. You must remember that before the USA became what it is today, they had to fight a war of independence and go through a civil war, all within 100 years of 1775.
So, there is hope for Malaysia yet!
Antares : Najib and Rosmah remain in charge of the main levers of government, despite being the target of so much negative publicity. Yet the feeling on the ground is that their luck has almost run out and that they will soon be forced to step down, no matter whom they bribe. Do you think, when they are no longer in power, that the Altantuya saga will be revived and finally resolved?
Shankar : The era of Najib/Rosmah’s villainy is a shameful period in Malaysian history. Our constitution will have to be amended to ensure that never again shall so much power be allowed to be concentrated in one person’s hands.
The Altantuya murder MUST be one of the primary issues to be resolved post-Najib/Rosmah. The PEOPLE must be protected from such an incident ever again recurring.
Antares : What would be the ideal of scenario, in your view, if power changes hands in Malaysia? Under what circumstances would you feel comfortable enough to return to your homeland?
Shankar : Power will definitely change hands for the better in Malaysia. It is only a question of when. Look at Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, India and China and no one can doubt that the change WILL come.
Ideally, we should proscribe race or religion based political parties. Religion should be removed from the province of government funded or aided schools and institutions of higher learning, government offices and statutory bodies.
I will negotiate to return as soon as Najib is thrown out of office. I will ask for immunities from government prosecution and/or private criminal or civil law suits relating to MIM, and guarantees for my safety and that of my family.
ANTARES manages an ecospiritual website. Go here for the writer’s interview with ES Shankar.