Another Mystery Death Involving DCN

Olivier Metzner, one of France's most prominent lawyers and the lead lawyer for the French defense contractor DCN in a case involving massive bribery in Malaysia was found floating near his private island off the Brittany coast yesterday, an apparent suicide.

Known as "the gangster's lawyer" for his defense of some of France's most notorious criminals, Metzner is at least the 20th person connected to DCN's activities known to have died since the defense giant began selling armaments around the world in the 1980s. Last Friday, Perumal Balasubramaniam, a Malaysian private detective, 53, died of a heart attack as he was being transported by ambulance to a hospital in Kuala Lumpur. Balasubramaniam had alleged that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had an affair with Altantuya Shaariibuu, a murdered Mongolian translator and party girl connected to the case. Najib has denied ever knowing the murdered woman or having anything to do with her death.

DCN and its subsidiaries have been suspected of irregularities in the sale of weaponry to the governments of at least Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Chile and Taiwan and possibly others.

Two submarines sold by a DCN subsidiary to the government of Malaysia are the subject of an investigation in a French court in connection with at least US$150 million in bribes allegedly paid to Malaysian politicians with the knowledge of then-French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Two bodyguards for Najib, then Malaysia's defense minister, were convicted of killing Altantuya in 2006 and blowing her body up with C4 explosives, possibly to obliterate DNA from an unknown figure in Malaysia who got her pregnant. (Asia Sentinel reports on the case can be found here and here and here)

Metzner, 63, was described in news reports in Paris as France's most famous lawyer. Hi body was discovered floating off his own private island in the Gulf of Morbihan, a natural harbor on the Brittany coast. Local police said a suicide note had been found in Metzner's home. There is no reason to suspect Metzner's death was connected to the Malaysia case, lawyers said.

Metzner in 2010 defended former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who told AFP he was astounded by the sudden death and that it was "incompatible with [Metzner's] personality." Many others also cast doubt that Metzner would take his own life, AFP reported.

Metzner was involved in some of country's most high profile cases, including the so-called Bettencourt Affair, in which former French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his associates are accused of receiving millions of pounds worth of illegal cash from Liliane Bettencourt, the I'Oreal heiress and richest woman in the world, in return for future tax breaks.

Certainly, affairs involving DCN are no stranger to suicides and other questionable deaths. Perhaps the most spectacular - and questionable - was that of Thierry Imbot, who was said to have committed suicide in 2000 by falling or throwing himself down a stairwell at his Paris flat. Imbot was the head of French intelligence in Taiwan at the time six French frigates built by Thompson Thales, a DCN subsidiary, were sold to Taiwan, a US$3 billion (in 1991 dollars) sale that generated "commissions" of US$550 million, or nearly 20 percent. Imbot's father said his son's body landed too far from the building to have been a suicide or to have fallen, and that Imbot had spoken of massive graft surrounding the case.

At least five other people connected with the Taiwan case have died under suspicious circumstances, including a Taiwan naval captain, Yin Ching-feng, who was found floating off the country's coast. Although it was first claimed that Yin had also committed suicide, his family hired a pathologist who said he had been beaten to death and dumped. His nephew, who was also pursuing the case, also died under suspicious circumstances, as did a former Taiwan-based Thomson employee named Jacques Morrison who also fell to his death from a high window after telling friends he feared for his life because he was the last witness to talks over the contract.

French judges have been investigating corruption allegations arising from the Taiwan contract over a number of years but have made no arrests, notably because documents are protected by defense secrecy laws, which the government refuses to lift. Nonetheless, it is widely believed that at least some of the alleged kickbacks were used as political campaign funds in the French 1995 elections.

Also, in what has come to be known as "L'Affaire Karachi," 11 French engineers employed by DCN, were blown up in a bus bombing in 2002 which was first thought to have been perpetrated by Islamic militants. The 11 were in Karachi to work on three Agosta 90 B submarines that the Pakistani military had bought in 1994, with payment to be spread over a decade. News reports said commissions were promised to middlemen including Pakistani and Saudi Arabian nationals. Agosta is a subsidiary of DCN.

Two French magistrates, Marc Trevidic and Yves Jannier, who were looking into the case on behalf of the victims, said kickbacks ended up in the campaign funds of Edouard Balladur, then the French prime minister and a rival of Jacques Chirac in the 1995 presidential election. Nicolas Sarkozy was Balladur's campaign manager as well as budget minister when the contract for the subs was signed.

Although Sarcozy and Balladur have both denied any wrongdoing, a top-secret memo turned up in October 2008 from DCN, copies of which were shown on French television. The memo reportedly said France had stopped paying the bribes after Chirac won the 1995 elections despite requests by Pakistani officials for several years afterwards. Eventually, according to the story, the Pakistanis lost patience and orchestrated the bus attack on the Agosta engineers in retaliation.

French judges have been investigating corruption allegations arising from the Taiwan contract over a number of years but have made no arrests, notably because documents are protected by defense secrecy laws, which the government refuses to lift. Nonetheless, it is widely believed that at least some of the alleged kickbacks were used as political campaign funds in the French 1995 elections.