Pesky French Lawyer Seeks to Return to KL

French lawyer William Bourdon, the leader of an investigation into a long-running scandal involving €150 million in kickbacks over the sale of submarines to the Malaysian defense ministry, was due to land in Kuala Lumpur today to testify on the probe before the Dewan Rakyat, or house of parliament.

It was questionable, however, whether Bourdon would be allowed into the country. He was unceremoniously bundled out by authorities in July of 2011 after giving details of the alleged scandal in a speech in Penang to hundreds of people at a fundraiser to continue his investigation. Bourdon was taken off a flight at Kuala Lumpur International Airport by immigration officials and was put on another plane out of the country over his protests.

Bourdon and his team, who had been hired to by Suaram to look into the scandal in dissatisfaction over the government’s investigation of the 2006 murder for hire of the Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu, were asked by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim to answer questions in parliament tomorrow about the affair.

Bourdon and Suaram have been battered by both the mainstream press, which is largely government-owned, and an army of bloggers who say the scandal has been overblown and that no trial had been ordered by French authorities. Neither Bourdon, Suaram nor Asia Sentinel, which has reported extensively on the case, have ever said a trial was imminent. But the investigation is continuing and investigating magistrates have been appointed by the French courts.

As Asia Sentinel reported in June 2012, French police acting on a request from Bourdon’s legal team raided the headquarters of the state-owned defense giant DCN and its subsidiaries and came up with a wealth of detail that enmeshed former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, current Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and a host of others in the scandal, as well as top officials with DCN.

On June 25, Asia Sentinel published 133 confidential documents from the French court giving exhaustive details on the scandal and uploaded them here. An accompanying story explaining the documents, which were written in French, can be found here.

In the succeeding weeks, and with what is expected to be an extremely close election, the United Malays National Organization and media aligned with it have initiated an unprecedented attack on Suaram, its director Cynthia Gabriel, and independent news organizations that have carried the story, particularly the popular website Malaysiakini, which has 300,000 daily unique viewers. Suaram has been investigated under the companies act, allegedly because its funding is suspect. Malaysiakini editor Steven Gan and publisher Premesh Chandran have both faced police questioning over Malaysiakini’s funding . At one point 15 policemen were sent to the website’s offices to investigate the writer of a letter that the government found objectionable.

The allegations of kickbacks have surrounded the sale of the submarines virtually since the transaction was completed in 2002. However, the case, which could have the potential to bring down the Malaysian government, has been kept under wraps by a government apparently anxious to protect the man who engineered the transaction – then-Defense Minister Najib. The case involves the payment of €114 million in “commissions” to Perimekar Sdn. Bhd., a company wholly owned by Abdul Razak Baginda, then a well-wired security consultant and one of Najib’s best friends, as well as additional payments to a Hong Kong-based company called Terasasi HK Ltd, which was wholly owned by Razak Baginda and his father.

Enmeshed inextricably in the case – and playing a major role in keeping it alive -- is the gruesome murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006, the jilted lover of Razak Baginda, by two of Najib’s bodyguards. According to a confession by one of the two, they were to be paid RM50,000 to RM100,000 to kill the woman and two friends who had accompanied her from Mongolia to confront the security consultant.

Altantuya had acted as a translator on latter element of the deal, according to documents seized by the French police. According to a letter found in her Kuala Lumpur hotel room after her death, she was asking Razak Baginda for US$500,000. In the letter, she expressed regret for attempting to blackmail Razak Baginda.

Details have been leaking out over recent months after a long period in which the case appeared to be closed. Razak Baginda, immediately after being cleared of complicity in the 28-year-old woman’s murder, fled to the UK, where he has remained ever since.

Suaram reportedly was organizing dinners in three Malaysian cities to seek to raise funds to prosecute the case in France when Bourdon was deported in 2011. Bourdon and his team have been providing legal services for free up to this point, but costs are expected to skyrocket when court hearings begin. Suaram said at the time that it hopes to raise about RM100,000 to cover the legal costs.