20080828

Nephew looking for PI uncle

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 — For the past one month, R. Kumaresan has been waging a one-man campaign to locate his uncle and his family.

He has engaged the services of a private detective to help track his uncle, P. Balasubramaniam, who disappeared mysteriously after rocking Malaysia's political landscape with claims that implicated the deputy prime minister and people close to him in the murder of a Mongolian woman.

“I know he fled because he feared for his life. I want to find him to make sure that he and his family are all right,” said Kumaresan, an executive in an IT company, in a recent interview.

His search for his uncle carries serious consequences for Malaysia's already rocky politics.

Balasubramaniam, a private investigator and a former officer with Malaysia's elite Special Branch, had made two declarations which contradicted each other.

In his first statutory declaration, the private investigator gave a detailed account of events leading to the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu in mid-October 2006 which showed how people close to Datuk Seri Najib Razak were allegedly implicated in the crime.

He also claimed he was told by one of the accused in the murder that the deputy premier had had a sexual relationship with Altantuya.

The second statutory declaration, which came less than 24 hours later after the first one, was a wholesale recantation of the earlier declaration.

Balasubramaniam's claims triggered strong denials from Najib and reopened the controversy surrounding the high-profile trial for the murder of Altantuya.

The police have said they are investigating the former police officer, who was the prosecution's star witness in the trial, for allegedly making a false statutory declaration, which is a crime in Malaysia.

But the somewhat unusual tactics of the police in handling the investigation have raised eyebrows.

So far, the police have said they have questioned Balasubramaniam in a “neighbouring country”. But they have yet to compel him to return to face the consequences of his actions.

The police have also not established whether he was forced, under duress, by unidentified people to make his first statutory declaration, as he claimed in the second declaration. A senior police officer told The Straits Times that investigations were ongoing but declined further comment.

The unresolved status of Balasubramaniam's claims in the two declarations, together with other allegations linking people in the deputy premier's office with the murder have raised questions over the near-certainty of Najib succeeding Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who plans to retire in mid-2010.

Balasubramaniam's sudden disappearance also provoked fresh scrutiny of the workings of the country's security and justice systems.

Kumaresan said he is inclined to believe his uncle's first declaration. He said his uncle had repeatedly stated during family dinners at his home in Rawang, outside Kuala Lumpur, that he was unhappy with the way the murder trial was unfolding.

“He did his first statutory declaration voluntarily because he was unhappy with the police investigation and the trial. The first declaration took two months to prepare, so how could it have been done under duress?” Kumaresan told The Straits Times.

Balasubramaniam, 48, was thrust into the public spotlight in early June last year when he appeared at the murder trial.

He had been engaged as a security consultant by Abdul Razak Baginda, a former political adviser to Najib who is being charged with abetting the murder of Altantuya. Two policemen who were part of the deputy prime minister's security detail are accused of killing her.

Police officers who have worked with Balasubramaniam describe him as a jovial person with a ready smile.

“His private eye business was doing well, but after he testified in the Altantuya case, business dried up,” said a police officer who knows him well.

Relatives believe that Balasubramaniam, together with his wife and three children, are now in hiding somewhere in India.

Before his disappearance early last month, he told The Straits Times he had sought legal advice on how best to reveal information he had on the murder case.

Because he had already testified in court as a prosecution witness, his lawyers told him a sworn statement in a statutory declaration would be the best legal route to give new information on the murder.

Kumaresan said his uncle has so far contacted him three times by phone and on each occasion reprimanded him for raising questions about his whereabouts in public.

“The first time was just before a planned candlelight vigil for him and his family two days after his disappearance. He told me that by going public with concerns over his safety, I was giving him trouble with the authorities,” Kumaresan said. — Straits Times Singapore

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