Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Big-name French politicians may be involved in M'sian subs deal

Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle



Big-name European politicians including French president Nicolas Sarkozy may soon hit the international headlines alongside Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor - but for the wrong reasons!

Lawyers assisting Malaysian civil rights group SUARAM are convinced they have a strong case against arms-maker DCNS and an on-going police probe may soon dredge fresh dirt from France's already notorious weapons industry.

“I believe we are just scrapping the ice from the tip of an iceberg. The French lawyers are certain we have a strong case,” SUARAM director Cynthia Gabriel told Malaysia Chronicle.

“They are trying to pin down some French politicians, but there are 2 sets of governments involved. One is during the negotiations of the deal and the second is when the purchases were actually made. Both were done under the time of President Chirac. Sarkozy's role is still being investigated, but either way some big names are bound to surface.”

It will not be the first time for Sarkozy if his name crops up. He was implicated in Pakistan's 1994 purchase of three Agosta 90B submarines. A French court had found kickbacks in the campaign funds of his ex-boss Edouard Balladur - Chirac's predecessor. Balladur and Sarkozy, who was then his campaign manager and budget minister, have denied involvement, although in 2008, a top-secret DCNS memo was leaked to the public showing bribes had indeed been offered to Pakistan officials. If involved, the role of the French politicians would have been to help in negotiations for which they also would get a share of commission.

Blackout

SUARAM was forced to file a complaint with the French authorities in Paris earlier this year, frustrated by the Malaysian government’s blackout of key details on the price tag for the two Scorpene submarines ordered from DCNS by Najib in 2002. The Najib administration has also refused to explain embarrassing discrepancies in the murder trial of a Mongolian woman believed to have acted as a go-between in the deal.

SUARAM is also working with Transparency International France to move a strong civil society campaign on such deals as they disadvantaged innocent taxpayers . It hopes the French authorities will be able to shed light on whether there was any corruption in the Malaysian acquisition.

Malaysia is not the first Asian country where DCNS with the help of some top French leaders have bribed their way to a deal. However, in Malaysia, the initiative to recover taxpayers’ money has come from an NGO and not the government, where as in Taiwan, India and Pakistan, the respective federal administrations are the prime movers.

Nonetheless, as in a similar case in Taiwan, the key to Malaysia’s purchase may hinge on a contractual clause that makes vendors liable to repay all bribes, plus associated interest and legal fees. Those familiar with international arms agreements believe this standard anti-corruption clause may be in the contracts governing the Scorpene sales to Malaysia, India and Pakistan.

So far, Najib has refused to disclose if such an anti-corruption clause exists in the deals. Even if the French authorities find sufficient grounds to take DCNS and their own leaders to court for corruption, at the Malaysian end, there is doubt that Najib will push for the recovery of the huge amounts lost to Malaysian taxpayers.

“We have to move a step at a time. The French investigations are ongoing and the probe could take another 2 to 3 months. The DCNS office being raided pertaining specifically to the Malaysian case was considered unusual by Parisian standards and has raised the eyebrows of many French media and corruption watchdogs. And that is why we had quite a bit of media attention when we were there,” said Cynthia.

Murder

As defense minister in 2002, Najib had sanctioned the Scorpenes purchase. Even at that time, his proposal worried financial analysts because of the added burden to an already soaring national debt. Opposition politicians also questioned the suitability of the subs for patrolling the country’s shallow-watered coast line.

But it was not until after 2006, after news broke that a beautiful Mongolian translator had been murdered in Malaysia and her body blown up with C4 explosives that the scandal really unraveled. Highly embarrassing details emerged that until now the Najib administration has refused to acknowledge or to probe.

These include high-level government tampering of immigration records to hide the entry of the 28-year old Altantuya Shaariibuu into Malaysia, the use of restricted military-grade explosives in her killing, the involvement of Najib's special aides Musa Safri and Nasir Safar, and the awarding of a side-deal worth 114 million euros to an obscure firm controlled by his friend Razak Baginda.

A private eye P Balasubramaniam hired by Baginda to keep Altantuya from bothering him has alleged she was trying to collect her US$500,000 share of the commission for the Scorpenes purchase. Bala also linked the PM, his wife Rosmah and Baginda to her murder and the submarines.

Two former special bodyguards of Malaysia's first couple have been found guilty and sentenced to hang for murdering Altantuya, but they only met her on the night of her death and two key questions were shunned by the judge in their trial – what was their motive and was there someone who ordered them to kill her?

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