From: John Berthelsen
The announcement late last week that French defense group Thales was under formal investigation in Paris in a long-running corruption probe linked to the sale of submarines to the Malaysia in 2002 reminds us that before the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal, there was just as much bad business. It also implicated disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak and included allegations of blackmail, bribery, murder, bribery, influence peddling, misuse of company assets and concealment.
Thales has denied the charges, which included allegations of bribes amounting to 114.96 million euros ($121.15 million) which were funneled through a subsidiary, DCN International, through a private company to the United Malays National Organization on the $1 billion purchase of Scorpene submarines. in 2002. Najib, the Minister of Defense at the time, was the architect of the purchase. At least 36 million euros were also transferred from the DCN subsidiary to Terasasi Hong Kong Ltd., whose top executives were listed as a close friend of Najib and his father. Terasasi only existed as the name on the wall of an accounting firm in Hong Kong’s Wanchai district.
Some of the wrongdoings appeared to have taken place with the knowledge of senior French government officials, including then-foreign minister Alain Juppe, and with the consent of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, according to documents released. the layout of Asia Sentinel at the time that were featured. at the French Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris in May and June 2011. The case, opened in Paris in 2010, is sensitive because of the possible involvement of senior French state officials.
Asia Sentinel received the top award for excellence in investigative journalism in 2013 by the Society of Publishers in Asia for a series of articles on the scandal. The main article can be found here. According to Reuters, the current charges involve contracts between Thales Asia and French state-controlled naval shipbuilder DCN. The French financial prosecutor’s office indicated in an email to Reuters that Thales SA had been indicted for complicity in active bribery of a foreign agent and that DCNI was indicted for bribery of a foreign agent.
Najib was found guilty on all seven counts of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering for his role in the 1MDB scandal, in which the government-backed investment firm was looted of billions of dollars and of which at least US$670 appeared to have been routed into its own pockets. He was sentenced to 72 years in prison, to be served concurrently over 12 years. The appeals court, which upheld the judgment and the sentence, described it as a “national embarrassment”.
Najib, however, has never been imprisoned and remains free on appeal. Currently, UMNO leaders are making intensive efforts to keep him out of jail, including trying to discredit Court of Appeal Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, who was part of the tribunal that refused to overturn the Najib’s call. Najib remains a powerful kingmaker in Malaysian politics.
Scorpene’s story basically began when Najib was appointed Minister of Defense in 1991 and embarked on a massive build-up of the country’s military, arranging the purchase of tanks, Sukhoi jets, of coastal patrol boats and submarines, which sparked stiff competition between French, German, Swedish, Russian and Dutch builders, who in turn sought out the most efficient cronies of the Malaysian management to help them. DCN found Abdul Razak Baginda, a close friend of Najib. Many other contracts were tainted with corruption.
According to documents made available to Asia Sentinel at the time, DCN channeled payments to UMNO through a private company called Perimekar Sdn Bhd, which is wholly owned by Razak Baginda and which, according to investigators, was created for the sole purpose of receiving bribes. Razak Baginda was then the head of a Malaysian think tank called Malaysian Strategic Research.
At the time, Razak Baginda, who was married, was dating a beautiful Mongolian party girl named Altantuya Shaariibuu. According to a report from a private investigator in Kuala Lumpur, she had also been involved in an affair with Najib. She was appointed as a translator as part of the deal and accompanied Najib and Razak Baginda on a visit to France, where she visited DCN headquarters with them, according to documents.
She and Razak Baginda toured Europe in his Ferrari. But the romance did not last. As Asia Sentinel reported at the time, after Razak Baginda abandoned her, she showed up in Kuala Lumpur to demand US$500,000 from Razak Baginda as “blackmail”, although she did not not say what the blackmail threat referred to – his threats against the family or perhaps his knowledge of the Scorpene deal.
Shortly after, two of Najib’s elite bodyguards abducted Altantuya from outside Razak Baginda’s house, where she was shouting threats, and took her to a patch of forest outside Shah Alam, proximity. She was shot twice in the head, then her body, believed to carry an unborn child, was blown up with military explosives.
Razak Baginda was arrested with the two bodyguards but was almost immediately released and decamped to Europe, where he remained for several years before returning. The two killers, Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar and Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, were found guilty and sentenced to death. Both have since said under oath that Najib ordered them to kill the 28-year-old woman.
The bodyguards are still in custody today. In 2021, former Attorney General Tommy Thomas squarely accused Najib of being personally responsible for the murder. The evidence gathered by prosecutors, he wrote in his autobiography My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, “not only implicates Najib Razak as the person who gave [one of the bodyguards] the order to kill, but also her aide-de-camp, Musa Safri, for aiding or abetting Najib’ to launch the bodyguards after her. Najib threatened libel suits. Thomas rejected the threat and reserved the right to seek costs should the case go to trial.
In February 2020, the Pakatan Harapan coalition that took power as a reformist government in 2018 was ousted from power. Almost immediately, Thomas was replaced as Attorney General and any hope of the investigation continuing faded in Malaysia. Najib still faces losing his appeal to the Federal Court, the nation’s highest court, in the 1MDB case, and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, is also facing lower court charges. It is uncertain whether the Supreme Court will rule on Najib’s appeal.
Malaysia, meanwhile, has been embarrassed in courts in the United States where 1MDB officials and Goldman Sachs executives have been tried in what has been called one of the biggest financial scandals in history. French justice could now have its turn with the Scorpène scandal.