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Finally! French Act in Altantuya Murder Case
The former boss of a French defense company has been indicted in Paris on charges of bribing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, involving one of the most notorious scandals in Malaysian history, including sex, corruption, murder and political chicanery.
Bernard Baiocco, 72, former president of Thales International Asia (Thint Asia), a unit controlled by the French munitions manufacturer DCN, was indicted on Dec 15. for “active bribery of foreign public officials on people including Najib Razak,” according to Agence France Press, quoting judicial sources.
Najib is enmeshed in yet another monumental scandal in Malaysia today over US$681 million mysteriously deposited in his personal account in AmBank Malaysia in 2013 that has nothing to do with the affair when he was defense minister, although both cases illustrate the depth of corruption that has overtaken Malaysia. At least four questionable deaths, three of which were outright murder, have been linked to various cases involving Najib.
As stories have increasingly tied him to wrongdoing, he has sought to intimidate the domestic press, most of it owned by government-aligned political parties. He has sought vainly to buy up opposition websites and has blocked two of the toughest international critics, Asia Sentinel and Sarawak Report, as well as Medium, a popular blog platform used as a mirror site for opposition publications.
Najib was minister of defense at the time of the alleged bribe, amounting to €114 million which appears to have been passed on to the United Malays National Organization. In the early part of the first decade, he embarked on a whirlwind of defense purchases, almost all of which were tainted by bribery. However, it was the purchase of two French Scorpene submarines that represented the most spectacular scandal. The episode was the subject of a prize-winning series of stories by Asia Sentinel.
Baiocco was held in custody for 48 hours, according to AFP, together with the Directorate of Naval Construction (DCN) for the sale, who was also indicted for complicity in misuse of corporate assets, the sources said. According to documents made available to Asia Sentinel in 2013, the scandal involved French officials all the way up to including Alain Juppe, then the foreign minister, and was conducted with the knowledge of then-Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
DCN weapons sales across the world were the subject of astonishing scandals, including the deaths of French engineers in Pakistan, reportedly because bribes to Pakistani generals were stopped by French President Jacques Chirac. Others died in Taiwan. DCN has been accused of bribing government officials in half a dozen countries.
“This is an important and encouraging step,” William Bourdon, the crusading French lawyer who brought the case on behalf of Suaram, the Malaysian reform NGO, told AFP. “The French judges show, even if the investigation goes on, their ability to dissect complex corruption mechanisms. In some respects, the investigation is just beginning.”
Bourdon was kicked out of Malaysia when he flew there in 2013 to attempt to interview witnesses involved in the case.
The story gained notoriety with the October, 2006 murder by two of Najib’s bodyguards of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a jet-setting Mongolian interpreter and party girl who was said by a Malaysian private detective named Perumal Balasubramaniam, in a sworn statement to have been the plaything of Najib before she was passed on to Razak Baginda -- reportedly, the private detective said, because Najib felt a foxy girlfriend who liked anal sex would impede his progress to the prime minister job. Balasubiamaniam later died of a heart attack although his associates in Kuala Lumpur believe he may have been murdered via an injected drug to induce heart failure during a visit to a government-run hospital. He died shortly after the visit.
Asia Sentinel was given the Society of Publishers in Asia’s highest award for investigative reporting in 2012 for its series of stories on the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu and the massive corruption connected to her death with the purchase of Scorpene submarines by the Malaysian government from the French government-owned munitions maker DCN and its subsidiaries. A package of the stories can be found here.
After supposedly being passed on to Razak Baginda by Najib, according to reports in Kuala Lumpur and France, Razak Baginda and Altantuya toured Europe in Razak Baginda’s Ferrari, pausing for pictures in Paris, before the two broke up. But the 28-year-old Altantuya, apparently pregnant, was furious that the US$500,000 promised her for her role as interpreter in the final stages of the Scorpene deal, flew to Kuala Lumpur to demand payment according to a note she left behind in her hotel room. She was abducted from in front of Razak Baginda’s house in Kuala Lumpur by Najib’s bodyguards and murdered, according to a cautioned statement delivered by one of the two that was never delivered in court. Her body was wrapped in C4 explosive and blown up, presumably to destroy the DNA of the fetus.
The trial of the two, lasting months, was by all accounts designed to steer away from any indication of who had hired the two to kill her. It is a question that has never been asked, and in fact an appellate judge ruled that asking motive in the case was irrelevant. Eventually the two were pronounced guilty and sentenced to hang. However, temporarily freed on appeal, one of the two, Sirul Azhar Umar, fled to Australia where he is being represented by two United Malays National Organization lawyers. Why UMNO lawyers are defending a convicted murderer in Australia has not been explained. He is said to be negotiating for a huge bribe to keep his mouth shut.
In Paris, according to AFP, the prosecuting judges said they suspected sums from a firm called “C5 commercial engineering” provided for payment by DCNI, a subsidiary of DCN, of €30 million to Thales International Asia, for “selling expenses for export (FCE).” The "selling expenses" are suspected of being a bribe.
Another company, the Hong Kong-based Terasasi Hong Kong Ltd., whose main shareholder was Razak Baginda, received almost the same amount for consultations. Investigators suspect the consultations of being a front for bribes.
The counsel for Mr. Baiocco, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, said his client’s indictment was based on “legal acrobatics” because “there is no evidence” that the former minister had received funding and its advisor must be considered a “commercial agent,” therefore outside the scope of corruption of public officials.