SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — A Malaysian former bodyguard convicted in the 2006 murder of a Mongolian translator has been released after eight years in Australian immigration detention, his lawyer said Monday.
Sirul Azhar Umar fled Malaysia after being sentenced to hang for the gruesome slaying of Altantuya Shaariibuu, who worked as an interpreter on a US$2 billion French submarine deal that was mired in allegations of corruption.
Sirul has long insisted the killing was ordered by “important people” but has refused to say who directed the hit.
The former member of then defence minister Najib Razak’s protection detail was reportedly among 80 immigrants freed after Australia’s High Court ruled last week that migrants cannot be held indefinitely if deportation is not an option.
“As the media has reported, he is in Canberra staying with his son,” Sirul’s lawyer, William Levingston, said in a statement to AFP, declining to comment further.
The Australian government would not comment on “individual cases”, said a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs, when asked about Sirul’s case.
The department was coordinating with government and border authorities on non-Australians who “need to be released” after the High Court ruling, the spokesperson said.
Sirul’s application for asylum was rejected in 2019, but he remained in detention because Australia does not extradite people to countries where they could face the death penalty.
He was one of two bodyguards convicted of shooting Altantuya and then blowing up her body with military-grade explosives near Kuala Lumpur.
The press linked her death to the scandal around the submarine deal, on which she had worked as a translator for a close associate of Najib.
The former prime minister was questioned over the deal after his government was ousted in the 2018 elections, but he has denied any wrongdoing.
Australia’s immigration minister Andrew Giles declined to comment on Sirul’s case but said 80 people had been released from detention so far following the High Court ruling.
“We have been required to release people almost immediately in order to abide by the decision the High Court has required us to make, as any government would,” he told national broadcaster ABC.
Giles said those released were given temporary visas with conditions that could include them having to report regularly to authorities.
“We’ve taken every step to ensure community safety,” he said.
The High Court ruled last week that indefinite detention was “unlawful” if deportation was not an option.
The judgement, delivered in the case of a stateless Rohingya man who had served time in jail for child sex offences, overturned laws that had formed the bedrock of Australia’s strict immigration system for decades.
Australia’s solicitor general said in court that 92 people were being held in similar circumstances –- most of them unable to get a visa due to criminal or national security concerns but also unable to be deported.