COMMENT Resurrecting ‘middleman’ Jasbir Singh Chahl to try to whitewash the Scorpene scandal is hardly a scoop by the New Straits Times (NST) - his churlish account in the interview fails to answer the many questions raised by the scandal and the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu.

azlanSuaram has all along stuck to the facts and this can be checked in our publication: ‘Questioning Arms Spending in Malaysia: From Altantuya to Zikorsky’ which I wrote in 2010. By no means does Jasbir disprove the chronology of events in the book or shed light on revelations by the French enquiry thus far.

But first, let us examine the credentials of this man touted as the “architect” of the Scorpene submarine deal, the most expensive arms purchase by our country to date, costing well over RM7 billion.

When the submarine deal was signed in 2002, the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) commented that it “…provides a rare peek into the normally opaque process of Malaysian arms purchases…Finally, it underscores the importance of political connections in winning a defence contract in Malaysia.” (FEER, Aug 15, 2002)

According to this report, in 2000 then private French company Thomson-CSF (now called Thales) had been working with a middleman named Jasbir Chahl in an attempt to sell a Crotale missile system to the Malaysian government.

A middleman like Jasbir must be beaming with pride at being hailed as the “architect” of the Scorpene deal when in fact middlemen in international arms deals normally try to keep a low profile as Jasbir has done for so many years.

This is how The Independent describes the work of a middleman in an arms deals:
1. He brings together buyers and sellers of weapons and military equipment, rather as estate agents bring together buyers and sellers of property;
2. He arranges the supply of specialised services, for example training and maintenance for complex Western combat jets that are bought by nations without the expertise to keep these planes flying themselves;
3. He obtains weapons for nations, guerrilla groups, mercenaries or others not legally permitted to buy them from Western governments or defence manufacturers;
4. He acts as a financial 'cut- out' in the extraordinarily complex flow of funds generated by multi-billion-pound arms deals. That is to say he helps to conceal the payment of bribes.” (Peter Koenig,The Independent, Oct 16, 1994)

Paper trail

According to the 2002 FEER article, Thales introduced Chahl to French government-owned DCN and the submarine deal was set in motion. Chahl then brought in Ibrahim Mohamed Noor, a businessman close to then finance minister Daim Zainuddin.

Ibrahim’s private company, Perimekar, was to become the linchpin between the Malaysian and French governments.
Ibrahim brought in Abdul Razak Baginda(left), a military analyst who headed the Malaysian Strategic Resources Centre and who was also adviser to then Defence Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

In August 2001, Ibrahim sold Perimekar to Generasi Mulia, which served to hold the shares temporarily, paving the way for new, well-connected investors to step in. By January 2002, everything had fallen into place.

Generasi Mulia sold its 100 percent stake in Perimekar to Ombak Laut, a private company owned by Abdul Razak’s associates. Ombak Laut then sold 40 percent to the Armed Forces Superannuation Fund (LTAT) and a sister company.  

In the 2002 story, the FEER speculated on the payoff for Malaysian businessmen in the submarine deal: “Defence analysts estimate that for all the effort, and for its continued involvement in the contract, Perimekar will receive, over the next six years, 8 percent of the total contract value: about RM288 million, and possibly more, as the euro, on which the contract is based, has appreciated 13 percent against the ringgit since the signing.” (FEER, Aug 15, 2002)

Jasbir tries to justify the exaggerated payments to Perimekar. He tells us nothing new to what the Defence Ministry has told us.

What the documents from the French judicial inquiry show is this view of Perimekar by the French state company DCN: “The amount to be paid to Perimekar is over-evaluated. It is not worth it…They are never more than a travel agency…The price is inflated and their support function is very vague…Yes, that company created unfounded wealth for its shareholders.”

From the French investigations so far, the former finance director of DCN, Gerarde Philippe Maneyas, had made a claim for 32 million euros (RM124 million) allegedly used to bribe Malaysian officials for purchase of the Scorpenes. The budget minister had questioned such a large bribe although he did eventually authorise the tax break.

altantuya mongolian murder trial 200607 mazlinda rowenaFrom the French documents, it emerges that the commissions and dividends for the Scorpene deal were funnelled through two companies, Terasasi and Perimekar, both owned by Abdul Razak. His wife, Mazlinda (right in photo) is a director in Perimekar, while his father is a director in Terasasi.
Malaysians have been told about Perimekar and its “coordinating service” in the submarines deal. But so far there has been no mention of Terasasi. Neither has Jasbir mentioned Terasasi.

With the new French law and OECD Convention against Corruption in place after 2002, the French arms merchants had to find an alternative way to pay commissions to their foreign clients. The method used was to create “service providers” that could “increase invoices” in order to take the place of commissions.

Thus, when the French state company DCN terminated its contracts, Thales took over as a private company, not involving the state. Thales International was appointed to coordinate the political connections.

A commercial engineering contract was then signed between DCNI and Thales, referred to as “C5”. It covered 30 million euros in commercial costs abroad. The companies used in the Malaysian case were Gifen in Malta, Eurolux in Luxemburg and Technomar in Belgium. The travel expences of Abdul Razak and Altantuya were covered by these.

Another “consulting agreement” was signed in 2000 between Thint Asia and Terasasi for 2.5 million euros. From the Paris Papers, we know that at least 32 million euros (RM144 million) were paid by Thales International (Thint) Asia to Terasasi.

There is an invoice by Terasasi dated Oct 1, 2000 for 100,000 euros. There is also an invoice from Terasasi to Thint Asia, dated Aug 28, 2004 for 359,450 euros (RM1.44 million) with a handwritten note saying: “Razak wants it in a hurry.”

Altantuya’s links to deal 

Altantuya was a translator. According to Abdul Razak’s bail affidavit, she met him in 2004 and became his lover two years after the submarine deal was signed.

I don’t think the French officials who negotiated the deal needed a translator in the first place. What has transpired is that Altantuya knew about the deal from her liaison with Abdul Razak and she had come to Kuala Lumpur expecting a cut of the commission.

azlanDuring the murder trial, when Abdul Razak’s lawyer read out the events of the fateful night, he skipped the part about Abdul Razak going to then Deputy Prime Minister Najib’s(left) office.

This made Justice KN Segara interject: “Why did you skip that? There is nothing to worry. He just went there. It is in the affidavit. He should have known better and go straight to the police or IGP and not embarrass the DPM … Facts must surface. You cannot hide. The truth will always prevail.” (Star Online, Jan 20, 2007)

Abdul Razak, accused of abetting the murder, was acquitted in November 2008 without his defence being called, while the two police personnel charged with the murder - Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Omar - were sentenced to the gallows.

After the verdict was made known, the government announced it would not appeal against the Abdul Razak’s acquittal.

Sirul said he had been made a scapegoat by certain parties to protect their “evil plan”. The trial was deemed questionable by many observers.

NONEApart from painstaking attempts to keep Najib’s name from being mentioned in the trial and probing the motive for the murder, other irregularities included: the sudden removal of the presiding judge just before the trial started without a plausible explanation to the lawyers; the changing of the head of the prosecution team at the last moment; the changing of the defence lawyers for the accused, one alleging interference by “third parties” in his work.

A witness testimony by Altantuya’s cousin alleging that the victim had shown her a photograph of herself, Abdul Razak, Najib and “others” having lunch in a Paris restaurant was stopped by defence lawyers and prosecutors from testifying further. Nor did the court ask the witness to produce the photograph.

In the course of the trial, evidence was given that Altantuya’s entry into Malaysia had been erased from the records of the Immigration Department. This could only have been directed by a higher authority. 

As we can see, this middleman in the Scorpene deal has hardly illuminated us on all these questions surrounding Altantuya’s murder.

What is surprising is the naivete of the high-brow propagandists in the NST in not pursuing the answers to these questions. Any truth seeker would at least be interested to know the motive for the murder.

This recalls Voltaire’s reminder that “… those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities”.

KUA KIA SOONG  is adviser to human rights NGO Suaram.