The strange case of the murdered Mongolian model

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For weeks, Malaysia has been gripped by the strange case of the missing Mongolian model. At first it was a routine disappearance of a foreigner. Then remains were found in the jungle: fragments of human skull that had allegedly been blown apart.

According to reports the police refuse to confirm, they were the remains of Altantuya Shaariibuu, and forensics tests showed that she was first shot in the head, then her body blown to pieces with C4 explosives.

One of the best-known political analysts in the country has been detained for questioning in connection with the case. Three police officers have also been detained, and yesterday two of them were charged with her murder. The case of the missing model has become a major scandal.

Suddenly everyone in Malaysia wants to know the story of the 28-year-old from a far-off exotic land, and how she came to die a brutal death so far from home. But the police have publicly refused to confirm anything, and instead the Malaysian press has tried to piece together the story from leaks and inside sources.

The last place anybody saw Ms Shaariibuu alive was outside the house of Abdul Razak Baginda, the political analyst, on 19 October. Witnesses saw her being bundled into a car and driven away by two men and a policewoman in uniform, according to local reports.

One of the three police officers who have been detained is a woman; another is a chief inspector. They have not been named.

Most of the reporting has focussed on Mr Abdul Razak, 46, a member of the World Economic Forum and the London-based Institute for Strategic Studies, who is also studying for a doctorate at Oxford.

Malaysian newspapers have reported that Mr Abdul Razak met the model in Hong Kong two years ago and the two had a relationship. There were claims he made lavish gifts to her, including putting $30,000 (£16,000) in her bank account, but the relationship broke down. Ms Shaariibuu followed Mr Abdul Razak to Malaysia, where she hired a private investigator to track him down.

Her family have confirmed that she had a 16-month-old son, but have refused to say who the father is. There have been reports that the model wanted to win Mr Abdul Razak back, or blackmail him for $500,000. But the Mongolian consul, speaking for the family, has said the real reason for her visit was to ask for money for an operation for her son. Mr Abdul Razak, who is married and has a 19-year-old daughter, reportedly tried to avoid Ms Shaariibuu.

There has been some criticism in Malaysia that the press has focused on Mr Abdul Razak, who has not been charged in connection with case but only held for questioning, and not on the police officers who have now been charged with murder.

"While the sordid details and the reasons and motives will probably only surface if the case ever goes to court, there are a list of unanswered questions," Malaysia's The Sun newspaper wrote in an editorial. "The most important question of course is: why should a posse of police officers abduct an unknown foreign national in daylight and in public?" Other questions remain, not least why the model's killers should go to the trouble of blowing her body apart with explosives.

At a press conference this week, Ms Shaariibuu's father said the family refused to believe she was dead until the results of DNA tests on the bone fragments. "I do not want anything from the authorities except a straightforward and transparent investigation," he said.