DEN HAAG, June 15 -- Investigators will next week announce criminal proceedings against suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 five years ago, allegedly by pro-Russian separatists.
MH17 was shot out of the sky over territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine as it flew from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board. There were 38 Australians, one New Zealander, 193 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 12 Indonesians were aboard, as well as 10 British passengers. The other passengers were from Germany, Belgium, the Philippines and Canada.
Dutch prosecutors said yesterday a multinational investigation team would present its latest findings to media and families on June 19. A spokesman for the national Dutch prosecution service declined to specify what would be announced. Citing anonymous sources reported that the public prosecution service had decided to launch a case against several MH17 suspects. Also reported that criminal proceedings will be announced against individual suspects. No suspects were named in the reports.
The Joint Investigation Team, which seeks to try the suspects under Dutch law, has said the missile system came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.
Investigators had said their next step would be to identify individual culprits and to attempt to put them on trial.
Dutch officials have said Russia has refused to cooperate. Russia is not expected to surrender any potential suspects who may be on its territory and authorities have said individuals could be tried in absentia. The Joint Investigation Team was formed in 2014 by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine to investigate collaboratively. The Netherlands and Australia hold Russia legally responsible. Moscow denies all involvement and maintains that it does not support, financially or with equipment, pro-Russian rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops.
BANGKOK, June 4 -- Police and troops stepped up security in Songkhla province, and especially the town of Hat Yai, on Tuesday ahead of the Eid al-Fitr festival.
Tuesday is the last day of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. A security source said intelligence agencies believed Muslim insurgents would step up attacks on this day prior to Wednesday’s start of Eid, the “Festival of Breaking the Fast”. Officials were strictly checking motorcycles and other vehicles at road checkpoints on Tuesday. Within business areas and shopping malls in downtown Hat Yai, security officials increased the frequency of patrols as the number of Thai and Malaysian Muslim visitors increased. Officials expected more tourists on Wednesday and so are implementing increased security measures.
KUALA LUMPUR, MAY 31 -- The Malaysian government wants strong evidence to show that Russia is responsible for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 tragedy in 2014, says Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
"They are accusing Russia, but where is the evidence? "We know the missile that brought down the plane is a Russian-type missile, but it could also be made in Ukraine. "You need strong evidence to show it was fired by the Russians. "It could be by the rebels in Ukraine, it could be Ukrainian government because they too have the same missile,” he said during a dialogue and media conference with the Japanese Foreign Correspondent Club (FCCJ) here on Thursday (May 30).
Dr Mahathir said Malaysia accepted the investigation report by Holland but only up the point where the plane was brought down by a missile made by Russia. He said while the government agreed that the plane was brought down by a Russian missile, it could not be ascertained that the missile was launched by Russia. The Russians were a military people and they would know that MH17 was a passenger plane, he added. "I don’t think very highly disciplined party is responsible for launching the missile,” he said. The Prime Minister said Malaysia should also have been involved in the examining the black box as the plane belonged to Malaysia and there were Malaysians passengers. "We may not have the expertise, but we can buy the expertise. For some reasons, Malaysia was not allowed to check the black box to see what happened. "We don’t know why we were excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it, and the idea was not to find out how this happened but seemed to be concentrated on trying to pin it on the Russians. "This is not a neutral kind of examination,” said Dr Mahathir.
Had a neutral party examined and made the conclusion, Malaysia would be willing to accept the findings but here we have parties with political interests in the matter, he added. Flight MH17, which departed from Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam on its way to Kuala Lumpur, was shot before crashing near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, about 40km from the Russian border on July 17, 2014. The incident killed 298 people, including 15 crew members. Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) said the team was convinced that a BUK TELAR missile was used to down MH17, and that it originated from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade (53rd Brigade), which is a unit of the Russian Army in Kursk in the Russian Federation.
KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 -- A Vietnamese woman who spent more than two years in a Malaysian prison on suspicion of killingthe half-brother of North Korea's leader has been freed.
Doan Thi Huong, 30, was charged along with an Indonesian woman of poisoning Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Huong received a jail term of several years which was cut due to sentence remissions. After a lengthy trial, Doan Thi Huong pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge of "causing injury" over the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam, making her the only person convicted for a murder that made headlines around the world. Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge following that. She was freed from a prison outside the Malaysian capital at about 7:20am (23:20 GMT Thursday), her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told AFP news agency, adding that she would return to Vietnam later on Friday. Weeks earlier, Indonesian Siti Aisyah - the only other person to face trial over the killing - was released and flew home after her murder charge was withdrawn. The pair always denied having committed murder, arguing that they were pawns in a plan hatched by North Korean agents who fled Malaysia after the killing. South Korea accused Pyongyang of plotting the assassination. Journalists waiting outside the jail saw a van and a car with tinted windows race past, and a court official at the scene also confirmed Huong had been released.
Speaking before her release, Hisyam had said she was "definitely looking forward to going home". The 30-year-old former hair salon worker was expected to head to an immigration office in the administrative capital Putrajaya to sort out documentation, before flying to Vietnam. Other suspects in the killing of Kim Jong Nam have escaped justice. Exclusive pictures shows the man believed to be the chemist who prepared the VX nerve agent that killed Nam. In exclusive video thought to be captured in late 2017, he is seen, relaxed and happy while singing Karaoke in a restaurant in China with his wife and friends. "There was a golden opportunity to hold them accountable," Hoo Chiew Ping of the National University of Malaysia said. "We have completely lost that."
While there is relief for the women - who said they believed they were taking part in a TV show prank - those behind the plot are unlikely to ever face justice. "The assassins have not been brought to justice," said Hisyam, adding the women's legal teams consistently argued their North Korean handlers were the real murderers. The pair were arrested after they were captured on airport CCTV cameras walking up behind Kim, as he waited for a flight, and one was seen clasping her hands over his face. Kim, heir apparent to North Korea's leadership until he was exiled from his homeland, died in agony shortly afterwards, his face smeared with poison. The defence stage of the case was due to start in March, but in a shock move, prosecutors announced they were withdrawing the murder charge against Aisyah, 27, and she flew back to Jakarta. Her release followed intense diplomatic pressure from Indonesia, including from President Joko Widodo. Vietnam then stepped up pressure for Huong's murder charge to be dropped. Their initial request was refused, but at the start of April prosecutors offered her a reduced charge, paving the way for her release.
SHAH ALAM, April 1 -- The Vietnamese woman accused of murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was sentenced to three years and four months' jail on Monday (April 1) after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
Doan Thi Huong, 30, will likely be freed in May because her prison time could be reduced by a third due to good behaviour. Her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told reporters in the Shah Alam High Court: "According to prison procedures, all prisoners are entitled to one-third remission (of their sentence). So by our calculations, she would be released on the 4th of May.” Huong escaped the death penalty after Malaysian prosecutors offered an alternative charge, under Section 324 of the Penal Code, of causing hurt. This charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.
Wearing a headscarf and a white sweater, Huong looked on in disbelief and growing relief as the court proceedings unfolded. In a short statement through her translator, she thanked the court, the Attorney-General, prosecutors, lawyers and the Vietnamese government. She told reporters that she would like to pursue acting and singing once she was freed. “I’m very happy. I want (to) sing and act.”
Her lawyer told the court that she had been honest both on her reasons for coming to Malaysia and during police investigations. “She is neither a criminal nor has a propensity to commit a crime,” Mr Hisyam said, citing her background. Her father is a war veteran and a stall owner. She is the youngest of five children. “However, she was naive and gullible," he said, adding that her weaknesses had been exploited to carry out the murder "under the camouflage of funny videos and pranks”.
Prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad had urged the court to take into account the seriousness of the offence and public interest of the case in sentencing. “It’s clear (from the airport CCTV) after the accused wiped the face of the deceased, she just walked off. From there, we can see the conduct of the accused,” Mr Iskandar said. Judge Azmi Ariffin called Huong a "very lucky person" as he pronounced the verdict. "First of all, Ms Doan, I must say that you are a very lucky person today.
"I say lucky because from a murder charge under Section 302 that comes with mandatory death penalty, the prosecution offered a charge under Section 324 with maximum sentence of only 10 years, with fine, whipping, or any two. However the Criminal Procedural Code says that female cannot be whipped, so a whipping sentence cannot be given." The decision came two weeks after her co-accused, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, was unexpectedly released on March 11.
Huong had been accused alongside Ms Aisyah, 27, of killing Mr Kim Jong Nam by smearing VX nerve agent on his face at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017, in a brazen Cold War-style hit that shocked the world. The women had denied murder, saying they believed they were taking part in a prank for a reality show and were tricked by North Korean agents into carrying out the hit. The two women spent nearly two years in custody. Huong had been scheduled to testify for the first time on March 12. However, the trial was postponed after the court found her to be “mentally and physically” unfit when she learnt that the application for her release was rejected. Her lawyers accused the Malaysian government of “discrimination”, as both women had put up a similar defence before Malaysia’s High Court. Reports said Indonesian government had lobbied hard for Ms Aisyah’s release. A letter from Malaysia’s Attorney-General Tommy Thomas to Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly said the charges against Ms Aisyah were dropped after “taking into account the good relations” between the two countries.
KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 -- When bombs started falling around her in the ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, Lidia decided it was time to leave. For the first time in more than four years, the 29-year-old Malaysian longed to return home.
The Mandarin-speaking medical lab technician disappeared from the Southeast Asian nation with her infant son and husband in October 2014 to travel secretly to Syria. Two weeks ago, she sent a text message to her father in the southern state of Johor to tell him she had fled the territory of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) and asked him to help her return to Malaysia. "I never lost hope that one day Lidia would tell me she wants to come home," her father, a Johor-based businessman who declined to be named. Lidia is one of the 13 Malaysians now wanting to come home as an offensive by the United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) enters its final stage in the last ISIS enclave in the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria, and the authorities are working out how to repatriate them. "We are trying to bring them home … yes, it includes Lidia. But you know, the situation is difficult as it involves many parties from different countries," Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, head of counter terrorism for Special Branch, the intelligence arm of the Malaysian police.
Interrogation and rehabilitation
While some countries are attempting to strip former fighters and their families of citizenship and prevent them from returning, Malaysia says citizens will be allowed to come back, provided they comply with checks and enforcement and complete a one-month government-run rehabilitation programme.
"Not everyone will be detained but all returnees will be interrogated," Ayob said. "We will conduct thorough checks and investigation on each returnee. We bring in clerics and psychologists to evaluate their ideology and psychological make-up. "We will compare intelligence which we received from friendly foreign services. If there is evidence that a returnee was involved in ISIS's militant activities, he or she would be charged in court," Ayob added. To date, 11 Malaysians have returned to the country. Eight were charged in court and convicted, all of them men. The other three were one woman and two children aged three and five. "The woman underwent a rehabilitation programme and has now returned to her kampung village," Ayob said. "She continues to be monitored." Even though ISIS has all but collapsed in Iraq and Syria, there are Malaysians who are still willing to fight for the group, according to police. "We are keeping an eye on them," Ayob said. "Those who cannot go to Syria are now setting their sights on Mindanao in southern Philippines where militant groups there have links to ISIS." Meanwhile, 51 Malaysians remain in Syria, including 17 children, according to Ayob.
KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 -- The Coroner’s Court here has questioned the motives of an investigating officer (IO) tasked with the Ivana Smit case, following its ruling earlier today that the Dutch model’s death was a misadventure.
Coroner Mahyon Talib, who made the ruling, said Faizal Abdullah could have done a better job when the case unfolded in 2017. She also asked why he had not changed the sudden death report (SDR) to an investigation paper (IP). “He could have taken more evidence (with an IP). Why didn’t he do this? “He should also have checked the unit for any alcoholic drinks and so on and passed this to the forensics department for analysis and DNA testing. This was not done.” Mahyon also said Faizal had failed to order the first IO for the case, Sergeant Haliza Hamdan, to do so despite it being common practice for the police.
An SDR is usually opened when the deceased is believed to have died due to natural causes. IPs are more general in nature and take into consideration other causes of death such as murder and foul play. An SDR was opened before the police went to the scene on Dec 7, 2017. SN Nair, who represented Smit’s family, had questioned Faizal during the inquest into her death last year for not choosing to open an IP. Despite the testimony of three police witnesses at the crime scene that Smit was found in suspicious circumstances, Mahyon had acknowledged that the SDR was opened on the instruction of Faizal’s superiors. She also criticised Faizal for failing to further question American-Kazakh couple Alex Johnson and Luna Almaz despite their “suspicious” statements on their activities on Dec 7.
“It is a mystery and definitely a tragedy that Faizal rejected this and did not do the right thing,” she said in her written judgment, referring to their statements to the police. Smit had been staying with the couple in their 20th-floor unit at CapSquare Residence near here on the day she was found dead. They were the last people to see Smit alive. Smit, 18, was found sprawled in the nude on the balcony of a sixth-floor unit on the afternoon of Dec 7. Faizal had concluded, among others, that the couple was innocent and required no further investigation. Shortly after, they fled the country. They did not return to testify in the inquest. Mahyon also criticised pathologist Dr Nurliza Abdullah whom she said had made assumptions on how Smit died based on pictures of the scene instead of going there to see it for herself. She also reiterated her belief that Smit had been alive at 6.50am, as the latter was talking to her boyfriend, Lukas Kramer, at the time. She said the opinion of Dutch pathologist Dr Frank Van der Goot that the injuries at the back of Smit’s neck and on her hands were older than the rest of her bruises tied in with her opinion on when rigor mortis set in. She said rigor mortis began at 2pm on Dec 7, estimating that it had taken four hours from either 10am or 11am to commence, based on the exterior tropical climate. She said this, together with how Smit’s hands which looked like they were placed on a blanket when she was found, would have made it impossible for her to be dressed, which would explain why the model was found naked.
Mahyon earlier said that there was no criminal element found in Smit’s death. She also said Smit had died between 6.50am and 2pm, and had likely fallen to her death from a high place. She said hyperthermia could have occurred, as testified by a witness, as bottles of apple cider were found at the scene which could have been laced with drugs. But Mahyon said she had ruled the model’s death as a misadventure as the court could not determine what had happened between Smit, Alex and Luna on Dec 7.
"SET drops ahead of Thai Raksa Chart ruling"
BANGKOK, March 6 -- Thai stocks dropped ahead of the Constitutional Court' ruling on the Thai Raksa Chart Party, while Philippine shares jumped 2% on Wednesday, led by real estate and consumer stocks.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand main index fell 13.49 points or 0.82%, in turnover of 44 billion baht, with all sectors except energy in the negative territory. The court will give its ruling on Thursday whether to ban Thak Raksa Chart for nominating Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for prime minister in the March 24 general election. The Election Commission had asked the court to dissolve the party after it nominated the princess. "Tomorrow's ruling will be worth closely monitoring as it may trigger a start of heightened political risks that could derail the Thai economy," OCBC Bank said in a note.
The Philippine benchmark stock index, which was Southeast Asia's worst performer last month, gained the most among regional markets as a selloff last week made valuations more attractive. Foreign investors bought net 273 million pesos (US$5.23 million) in equities on Wednesday, exchange data shows. SM Prime Holdings, the country's second-largest firm by market value, advanced 3.6%, while real estate conglomerate Ayala Land Inc gained 2.3%.
Singapore stocks closed lower for a second session in three, dragged by industrial and consumer stocks. Index heavyweight Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd dipped 2.1%, while food retailer Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd weakened 4%.
Meanwhile, Indonesian shares snapped two consecutive sessions of losses, helped by consumer and financial stocks. Clove cigarette maker Gudang Garam Tbk PT rose 2.1%, while lender PT Bank Mayapada Internasional Tbk added 11.4%.
"Real estate, financial shares drag Philippine market"
BANGKOK, February 19 -- Philippine stocks fell the most on Tuesday dragged by losses in the real estate and financial stocks, as most of the Southeast Asian equity markets ended lower, while Malaysia gained as investors took positions amid the earnings season.
The Philippine index dropped about 1% to its lowest level since Jan 8, dragged by losses in real estate and financial stocks. "The Philippine market right now is in search of a new catalyst and with none in sight, some investors are already choosing to take profit," said Rachelle Cruz, an analyst with AP Securities. BDO Unibank Inc shed 3.2%, while Ayala Land Inc dropped 3.7% to close at its lowest level since Jan 3. "Ayala Corp has $293 million worth of bonds that are exchangeable to shares of ALI and that will mature by that time (in May). Some investors may look to cash in, exerting a downward pressure on ALI's share price," a note from RCBC securities said.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian index gained 0.8% to a three-month closing high on the back of materials and utilities. Petronas Chemicals Group Bhd rose 3.9% ahead of its fourth quarter result announcement. Shares of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd strengthened more than 1%, after posting a jump in quarterly net profit.
Real estate stocks drove the Vietnam index marginally higher, with Vinhomes JSC and Vingroup JSC rising 6.1% and 2%, respectively. Singapore and Indonesia indexes traded relatively lower.
"SET drops, other Asean stock markets rise"
BANGKOK, February 14 -- The Stock Exchange of Thailand index ended lower, while other Southeast Asian stock markets closed higher on Thursday as a surprise jump in monthly Chinese trade data brought slight relief amid continued focus on Sino-US talks.
The SET index eased 3.09 points or 0.19% to 1,652.64, in turnover of 45.88 billion baht, despite gains in shares of telecom operators. True Corporation jumped 25 satang or 4.81% to 5.45 baht, Advanced Info Service added 2.50 baht or 1.37% to 184.50 and Jasmine International ended 25 satang or 4.24% higher to 6.15 baht. PTT shares however dropped 75 satang or 1.53% to 48.25 baht. The region's biggest trading partner, China, reported better-than-expected trade figures for January, easing some fears of an imminent slowdown in the economic powerhouse. High-level talks between the country and the United States have been a major focal point for markets this week. US President Donald Trump is considering a 60-day extension of the Mar 1 deadline for higher tariffs on Chinese imports, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.
The Philippine benchmark firmed 0.9% to snap four consecutive sessions of losses and led the gains among its regional peers. Financial stocks were the biggest boost to the index, with BDO Unibank Inc rising 2.3% to post its best close in nearly 11-months. Asian fast-food giant Jollibee Foods Corp jumped 1.7% and was also among the top gainers on the Philippine benchmark after reporting a rise in fourth-quarter net income. Philippine markets had seen large outflows over the past four sessions as foreign investors rebalanced their portfolios.
Meanwhile, the Vietnam stock exchange continued to gain for the fourth straight day, closing 0.8% up, supported by a persisting rally in the country's real estate sector. Property developers Vingroup JSC and Vincom Retail JSC gained 3.6% each. "(The) Vietnamese market has been moving in a positive direction on Wall Street cues. Investor sentiment has also been supported by a possibly positive outcome of the Trump – Kim summit slated for Hanoi later this month," said a stock broker with SSI Securities Corp. "Traditionally, cashflows into the market in Vietnam are often strong in the first quarter of the year as several corporate investors have abundant cash at hands."
The Malaysian index ticked up 0.2%, after data showed on Thursday that the country's economy expanded 4.7% in the October-December quarter from a year earlier, in line with expectations, ending four quarters of slowing growth.
Singapore's index ended 0.3% higher ahead of a fourth-quarter GDP report due on Friday. The country's economy likely grew at a slower pace than initially estimated as growth in the city-state's manufacturing and services sectors came under strain from slowing demand, a Reuters poll showed.