By Koh Jun Lin
INTERVIEW Almost five years after fleeing the country, the widow of the private eye P Balasubramaniam, A Santamil Selvi, has given her first interview to the media.
She was driven to do so, Selvi said, after receiving anonymous phone calls offering her money and education opportunities for her children in exchange for “evidence” that PKR paid her late husband to make his infamous statutory declarations.
This was in addition to an SMS hoax last month that she would hold a press conference to declare that her husband, Balasubramaniam, had been paid off by lawyers, Selvi told Malaysiakini and KiniTV last Friday.
“After Bala died, they made the offer and I can’t take it. That is why I am giving this interview. Before this, I did not even think of giving interviews, but I cannot take it (anymore),” she said of the persistent harassment.
“That is why I want to tell the rakyat what happened to me,” Selvi (left) added in the interview, during which she insisted that her husband was “not in anyone’s pocket”.
Selvi, who had little clue of what her husband was doing, said on that fateful day of July 3, 2008 while she was watching news on television, she was shocked to see her husband appear on the screen.
That morning, Balasubramaniam had called a press conference at the PKR headquarters and announced his first statutory declaration (SD1), in which he linked then deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Najib Abdul Razak to the murdered Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu.
‘Bala refused to explain’
However, Balasubramaniam refused to explain what was going on when she called him, even though he had previously told her about his encounters with Altantuya.
She had to wait until 2am the following day to see her husband, who came home with a relative, a friend and a police officer named ASP Suresh.
“Bala looked exhausted, tired and worried. I have never seen Bala like that. I asked him what happened but he said, ‘I cannot talk. You talk to Suresh’,” she said in the interview, while holding a heart-shaped pillow with a photo of her late husband printed on it along with the word “Sayangku” (My darling).
Selvi claimed that Suresh told her then DPM Najib was offering Balasubramaniam RM5 million in a lump sum, RM20,000 a month, and arrangements for education and for the family to go on a ‘holiday’ for a few months, until he becomes the prime minister, as their lives are under threat.
Their passports were prepared later that morning, all within two hours – at that time, the process normally took a week.
This aroused suspicion among the Singapore immigrations officers when the family reached Changi Airport by land later that day. The sharp-eyed officers apparently noticed that the entire family of five were wearing the same clothes as those in their passport photos.
Nevertheless, they were allowed to proceed with their flight to Bangkok, after being briefly questioned.
Hours before departing for Bangkok via Singapore, Balasubramaniam held a press conference in Kuala Lumpur about a second statutory declaration (SD2) (left) that he had signed, to retract his SD1.
Najib has since denied any wrongdoing in the Altantuya case, while Balasubramaniam asserted that his second SD was false and made under duress.
From Bangkok, the family had been constantly on the move for over a month, fleeing to Nepal and to the Indian cities of New Dehli, Madurai and Chennai. Eventually, they settled down in a house in Chennai, the capital of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
“We were there like refugees. My six-year-old would ask, ‘Ma, do you want me to pack?’ as soon as he hears the telephone ring. My heart aches… as a mother I have never seen my son like that,” she said.
Initially they moved on Suresh’s instructions and had met with his contacts along the way, who provided money and facilitated their travel.
Passports taken away
But upon reaching Madurai, Suresh’s contact took away the family members’ passports and sent the documents back to Malaysia, and a meeting held with Suresh in Chennai failed to resolve this issue.
The Bala family then sought the help of their relatives to apply for fresh travel documents, and have avoided contact with Suresh since then.
The promised RM5 million and RM20,000 per month never came, and arrangements for the children’s education in India were not made until the family secretly returned to Malaysia in 2009 to place the three children in a school, which Selvi said infuriated Suresh.
That was the only time Balasubramaniam ever returned to Malaysia, she said, until he returned again with much fanfare in February this year.
Selvi said she had been able to return to the family home in Rawang, and to her dog, which were under her sister’s care, from time to time.
“Bala never came back. If I put the phone to (the dog’s) ear, it would follow Bala’s commands. Sit! And it would sit, because he trained it since it was little,” she said.
She said the dog also shed tears when Balasubramaniam died on March 15, after a heart attack. She had never before seen the dog cry.
While in India, Selvi said, her family lived in poverty. She could not work because they lacked the necessary documents. Bala would have to think hard whenever his youngest child craved for a meal from KFC, or when the eldest, who showed promise in drawing, had no paint.
“He drew a picture of his dad at home and these were pretty, but he did not go for art classes or anything because we could not afford it. If I had taken that RM5 million, I could have sent him to art school.
“Many people thought my husband took money. I swear upon my husband’s name that he was not paid. Suresh promised, but he did not deliver.
“When he decided to return to Malaysia, I asked him if he no longer wanted to live, and he replied ‘People first’… He died for the people, not for me,” Selvi said, breaking into tears.
“What have we done? Is it wrong to tell the truth? Since young, mother taught us to speak the truth. But this is what became of us for being honest,” she said.
No life of luxury
Selvi said she could have lived a life of luxury in India if the family had indeed received the money, but now she and her children are concerned that even this interview could endanger her life.
She also expressed disbelief over her husband’s death, since he regularly played badminton with the children while in India and had undergone medical check-up on the morning of his death.
To a question, Selvi said she had no wish to return to India because she and her children are all Malaysian citizens.
However, she complained, she could not put her three children, now aged 16, 15, and 11 years, in school because they were educated under the Indian syllabus for a number of years and could not continue in government schools.
Private schools in Malaysia offering the same syllabus charge RM30,000 a person annually, which is far beyond her reach.
“So who is going to send my children to school? If the public help… but for how long? We followed Suresh’s instructions, that is RM5 million, right? Maybe I could send them to university, but I didn’t get the money,” she said.
Asked what hopes she had for her children, Selvi said, “I want them to do well in life. I want them to be heroes, like their father.” – Mkini