By MARK RAO / Pic By BERNAMA
Bank accounts of a shell company in Hong Kong could provide the trails of possible kickbacks related to Malaysia’s almost RM5 billion purchase of two submarines from France in 2002.
The purchase of the submarines had drawn scrutiny over possible kickbacks paid to associates close to the deal. The then Defence Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak had also been dragged into the scandal despite no formal charges had been levelled at the disgraced former prime minister.
Najib is already battling more than 40 charges of corruption, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) which he claims innocence to.
French lawyer William Bourdon said access to Terasasi (Hong Kong) Ltd’s bank accounts could unravel the cross-border corruption case involving the RM4.7 billion purchase of French submarines.
Bourdon, who filed the corruption complaint in 2008 on behalf of human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), said Hong Kong authorities’ refusal to provide the French judiciary access to the accounts had been the “black hole” in solving the Scorpene mystery.
He said Terasasi had been allegedly used to divert €36 million (RM166 million) as kickbacks.
“If Malaysian and French judges have access to Terasasi’s accounts, it is quite likely that the complete understanding of all the flows from this bank account will give a complete mapping of the beneficiaries of the kickbacks,” he said at Suaram’s office in Petaling Jaya yesterday.
Bourdon said any charges, including by the French court against associates or government officials over the purchases, are largely dependent on the outcome of the cooperation between the French and Malaysian authorities, as well as the assistance from Hong Kong.
He was informed that French Magistrate and Financial Prosecutor were in Kuala Lumpur in December 2018 to meet various judicial authorities and stakeholders, but has no knowledge of the outcomes of those meetings.
He added that the judiciaries from Malaysia and France need to obtain the approval from Hong Kong authorities to access Terasasi’s bank accounts.
In 2002, the Malaysian government purchased two Scorpene-class submarines from French warship builder DCN International SA for RM4.7 billion. French defence company Thales Group owns about a third of the company which is now operating under the name Naval Group.
Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was murdered near Kuala Lumpur in 2006, was acting as a translator for the deals.
Suaram had filed a complaint to the French judiciary in 2008 alleging that Abdul Razak Baginda received US$131 million (RM533.17 million) in kickbacks from Malaysia’s purchase of the submarines via his majority-owned company Perimekar Sdn Bhd.
Abdul Razak, who was a close associate of Najib, had been the advisor to the RM4.7 billion acquisitions.
French prosecutors took up the case in 2010 and alleged that Terasasi was created by Thales as a shell company. Terasasi is 90%-owned by Abdul Razak, according to reports.
Five individuals have since been indicted in relation to the submarine scandals including four French defence industry executives.
Malaysian graft buster has reopened the Scorpene scandal according to news reports in November last year. Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had also questioned Najib over the purchases.
Malaysia purchased two Scorpene-class submarines and one Agosta-class submarine from DCN International for nearly €1 billion. The submarines had been named KD Tunku Abdul Rahman and KD Tun Razak. The KD Tunku Abdul Rahman arrived in Malaysia in 2009.
Bourdon and his associate Appoline Cagnat were expected to meet officials from the MACC, Attorney General Tommy Thomas and Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong yesterday. Bourdon was barred from entering Malaysia since July 2011. But Barisan Nasional’s defeat during the May 9 General Election had opened the door for Bourdon’s first visit to Malaysia in almost nine years.