Australian taxpayers face a multi-million-dollar bill for the indefinite detention of a fugitive Malaysian police commando sentenced to death for the murder of a woman with links to Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The Australian understands Sirul Azhar Umar has been formally notified by Immigration and Border Protection that his application for a protection visa is likely to be denied on the ground he committed a non-political crime before entering Australia in October 2014.
Sirul has until Monday to offer any additional information that might sway the decision in his favour and allow him to be released into the community.
A July 31 letter addressed to Sirul at Villawood Detention Centre says the department has received “unfavourable information which does not support your application”, related to his role in the 2006 murder of Mongolian translator and mother of two Altantuya Shaaribuu, 28.
Sirul fled to Brisbane in 2014 as Malaysia’s Federal Court considered whether to reinstate his conviction, overturned on appeal, for her abduction and killing. He was arrested by Australian immigration authorities and sent to Villawood in January 2015, days after his conviction was reinstated, and has awaited a decision on his visa application since then.
The Malaysian government has said repeatedly it will apply for Sirul’s extradition to face execution, but has not yet done so. Earlier this year, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi ruled out commuting Sirul’s death sentence in order to have him extradited.
Australia will not deport a fugitive if the government believes he will face execution upon return — leaving the 46-year-old convicted murderer in limbo in Villawood.
With government estimates putting the annual cost of detaining a single asylum-seeker in Australia at $239,000, the bill for accommodating Sirul could reach millions of dollars.
Immigration and Border Protection and Sirul’s Australian lawyer, Christopher Levingston, both refused to respond to questions from The Australian this week.
But Sirul’s Malaysian lawyer, Kamarul Hashim Kamaruddina, said he was “not aware of any extradition request made against (Sirul), which in any case is prohibited by treaty on account of the death penalty involved”.
Sirul has claimed he acted under orders and had been made a scapegoat to protect powerful people in Malaysia. But in February last year he issued three bizarre videos exonerating Prime Minister Najib of any links to Shaaribuu or her murder, in the process unravelling the basis of his claim for protection. He also recanted an allegation Shaaribuu had been pregnant with the child of a “certain person”.
Mr Najib is battling corruption allegations over multi-billion-dollar losses to the 1MDB state investment fund. There is also a French investigation into whether $230m in kickbacks was paid by a French company to secure a submarine contract with Malaysia while he was defence minister.
Shaaribuu was abducted by Sirul and another police commando from outside the home of her former lover Razak Abdul Baginda, then a confidant of Mr Najib who was helping negotiate the submarine deal. It has been speculated she had threatened to reveal details of alleged kickbacks.
Papers reportedly retrieved from her hotel room suggest she may have been blackmailing Mr Baginda for withholding a promised $US500,000 translator fee.
Mr Baginda was acquitted of any role in Shaaribuu’s murder in 2008 but last week was placed under investigation by French prosecutors probing the scandal.