A decade later, still no funeral for Altantuya
EXCLUSIVE | No visitors are welcome in the collapsed world that used to be the thriving family home of Dr Setev Shaariibuu in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.
The angry professor says the devastation caused by the still-unexplained murder of his daughter, Altantuya Shaariibuu, 28, by two police officers in Malaysia a decade ago has been too great.
Even relatives may take only a few steps inside to the kitchen, where water drips from a frail ceiling of their rundown, rented dwelling.
Setev explains that his wife has a heart condition due to acute stress and is likely to shout at someone invading their space; while the lives of his two motherless grandsons are too pathetic to be shown.
“There are windows at home but the darkness is beyond imagination,” he says, of the relentless gloom. “You won’t see any beauty there. It is a hard and dark life... The murderers didn’t only take her life, they destroyed the whole family… They shouldn't have to live in a world full of tears."
With clenched fists planted on the desk in front of him, and tensely erect, this expressive Professor of Film Study is explaining why our interview needs to happen in his university office.
It is enough for him to tell of a family still crushed by unresolved grief and still craving answers for a crime still without a known motive and with the source of the killer’s orders still a mystery.
And still needing to "properly" bury Altantuya, who was blown to bits by military-grade explosives wrapped around her body by the two policemen who shot her twice in the head in a forest on the edge of Kuala Lumpur on the late night of Oct 19-20, 2006.
Sensationally, both killers, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, turned out to be members of a police commando unit that protected Malaysia's top leaders, including then defence minister Najib Razak, who is now prime minister. Najib has strenuously denied knowing Altantuya or any part of the atrocity.
Today, the motive for the murder and the source of the policemen’s orders remain unknown and Sirul marks time in Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney, where he has spent the past 21 months.
Sirul is there because the tourist visa he used to enter Australia in October 2014 had expired early last year, about the same time the Federal Court, the country’s highest court, re-convicted him and Azilah of Altantuya’s murder (They were first convicted and sentenced to death in 2009 but were acquitted by the Court of Appeal in 2013 and released).
“In Mongolian tradition, the ceremony and burial should be done within 49 days after death but we haven’t done her funeral for the past 10 years,” Setev continues, before recalling how a Malaysian lawyer helped them to receive a “small box” of remains sent by the Malaysian government to the Mongolian embassy in Thailand.
The “bits of bone” were cremated at a crematory there, as were some of Altantuya’s personal belongings. The ashes container stayed in a temple at the cemetery for seven years until the storage fees were too much for their fragile finances and were taken home.
They had already sold their apartment to pay for the legal fees, airfares and accommodation needed whenever Setev travelled to Malaysia to try to ensure justice was being done.
“It is disgusting,” he says of the decision forced upon them. “I basically sleep with her remains in my home now. Having her before my eyes is hard. Where is democracy?”
Setev left some of her remains in Malaysia as evidence in case, he hopes, more prosecutions will eventuate.
Meanwhile, although in his retirement age, Setev still teaches. “The life wheel of my family will stop if I die,” he says.
He tells how, at home, his youngest grandson, 14, crawls about the floor because his arms and legs lost function due to an illness in infancy. Altantuya took him to an overseas clinic for treatment and he began to walk with the support of walls.
But Setev says the lad’s condition has deteriorated because "economically and emotionally” he has not been able to do the same.His oldest grandson, 19, spends most days lying on his bed,
while the younger sister of Altantuya is required by Setev to mostly stay in her own home, when not at work: “I provide her food. One is already dead. What if she gets run over by a car?
Setev seizes a chance to talk about Altantuya, the person. He says nobody, including no journalist, has ever asked him about her “true nature” and claims her reputation was wrongly “tarnished” by others.
He tells of a natural-born go-getter who once boasted to him, fatefully: “I’m a girl born in the Year of Horse. I will make noises worldwide” – he explains that Mongolians believe that women born in that Chinese Zodiac year, associated with race and war horses, are destined to become “hard” and “go far”. But she was stopped, permanently, 10 years ago...
A decade later, still no funeral for Altantuya, and no JUSTICE for her. Let us pray that justice be done for her and for financial support for her children. May God see and grant these.