French police have obtained "quite crucial documents" in the Scorpene submarines probe on whether French arms giant DCN had paid kickbacks to Malaysian officials, including Prime Minister Najib Razak, to secure the deal.
The 58-year old Najib had been the Defense minister sanctioning the acquisition in 2002. Even then, there had been much public unhappiness over the price which was seen as too expensive, and furthernore, the high-tech submarines considered as unsuitable for patrolling the country's shallow coastline. Right now, both ships are docked in Sabah and hardly used. There have also been reports of system malfunctions due to the unsuitability of the territorial waters.
"It is likely that in September we should have access to the first police conclusions from all the investigations that have taken place over the last 18 months. We know that the police seem to have obtained quite crucial documents," Asia Sentinel reported Paris-based lawyer William Bourdon assaying.
William is one of the French lawyers appointed by Malaysian NGO Suaram, which lodged a complaint on behalf of taxpayers against DCN for corruptly sealing the contract. It is illegal in France to offer bribes to secure a deal and if found guilty, DCN may have to pay compensation to Malaysian taxpayers for overcharging on the final price paid by the Malaysian government.
The French lawyer is due to arrive on Thursday, where he will speak to a Penang audience and brief them on the latest developments in the case. Suaram has already hinted that William will touch on the identities of several 'new' personalities involved in the kickbacks.
It is also believed that French investigators have managed to pin down a very important personality, who travelled with submarines negotiator Razak Baginda and murdered Mongolian translator, Altantuya Shaariibuu, to Macau as part of the complex negotiations.
There is red-hot speculation that this person is Najib himself. If true, it will blow away the PM's previous denials he never knew Altantuya, who is believed to have been his lover before he "passed" her onto Razak, who was his confidante and representative. Such evidence paves the way for the re-opening of her murder trial, which had ended with two of Najib's former bodyguards being sentenced to hang for her 2006 killing. However, the 'mastermind' is believed to be still at large.
Lesser personalities involved in the sprawling deal have also been traced and their identities likely to be revealed as well.
William is also expected to drop a new bombshell - previously unknown commissions that have just been uncovered by the investigators. This will add to the growing list of murky details shrouding the shady acquisition engineereed and pushed for by Najib years ago, when he was the Defense minister directly in charge of key military procurements.
No more secret places left for Najib
It looks like unless the French government is willing to help him out and muzzle the case, Najib may have run out of hiding places. Whatever time that he can buy will not last long either.
And to pundits familar with all the ramifications both at the Malaysian and French ends, it is impossible for him to escape scot-free. One way or another, they say he will have to explain to his people the true extent of his involvement, not just in the kickbacks but also in the Altantuya murder.
In fact, not even his UMNO party can save him. With the Scorpenes trial expected to be heard in the French open court in August or September, many of the party warlords are already gearing up to push him out and slam the door on his administration, which has been scarred by non-achievement, gutter politics and extensive corruption.
It does not help that in recent months, Najib has felt the pressure and added to his own discomfort by making several disastrous decisions. The most recent was ordering a violent crackdown on a citizens rally for free and fair elections two weeks ago. His fast-fading popularity and plunging credibility makes him an easy target now.
Rightfully, the BN government should have immediately lodged a compliant with the French authorities when news reports about the huge Scorpene kickbacks first came to light. However due to Najib's influence, no one in the Malaysian government has dared to call for a public probe so far.
Even a suspicious 114 million euros (RM570 million) side-deal granted to Baginda's firm, Perimekar, has been whitewashed in Parliament as a "services" and "maintenance" contract, when it is obvious that the obscure firm has no experience or track-record in such a high-tech industry.
Numerous reports have also been lodged by Malaysian citizens, who are alarmed that the RM7 billion price tag is still climbing. It is now apparent Najib may have hidden the full cost to Parliament, opting to gradually seek additional budget allocations to maintain the ships rather than to reveal at one-go the full 'damage' to taxpayers. Yet till now, Malaysian police as well as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission have refused to initiate any investigation into the file at all.
Seamy details in a sordid deal
Numerous questions are likely to be asked by those attending the Suaram-organised sessions with William on 21, 22 and 23rd Jruly. Apart from the status of the case, the latest 'dirt' dug out so far, the greatest interest will surely centre around the beautiful but tragic Altantuya, who acted as translator for Baginda.
Uppermost on Malaysian minds are exactly what sort of relationship Najib had with her. Not that they are voyeurs and wish to nose out all the seamy details of the love affair the two allegedly had, but because they want to know how much and to what extent their PM - who was then the DPM - was willing to lie and may have lied just to become prime minister.
"If you want to know all these details, you have to come for the dinner, listen and ask," Suaram director Cynthia Gabriel told Malaysia Chronicle.
- Malaysia Chronicle