Malaysia’s prime minister is facing the possibility of being summoned by a French court to give evidence in an investigation into corruption and defence contracts.
Lawyers acting for Malaysian non-government organisation SUARAM have linked a former close aide of prime minister Najib Razak to the sale of classified defence information.
Suaram filed the complaint in the French court in 2010 against French defence giant DCNS for allegedly bribing Malaysian officials to secure a controversial multimillion dollar contract for two submarines.
Prime minister Najib was the Defence minister in 2002 when the submarines were commissioned.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Joseph Breham, French lawyer for Malaysian INGO SUARAM
BREHAM: During a raid made in one of the French companies, the police found a document, a classified document, sent by a company called Terasasi, which was under Abdul Razak Baginda’s power (sic), Abdul Razak Baginda being one of its main share-holders…
LAM: Mm, and Abdul Razak Baginda was a top aide at the time to Najib Razak, who was the Defence minister, and is now currently, the prime minister of Malaysia?
BREHAM: Yes, exactly. And he (Abdul Razak Baginda) was the key man for the now-prime minister, and he was also the key man leading the negotiations for the French company.
LAM: And these Malaysian navy documents were allegedly sold to the French defence company. So these are tantamount to Malaysian defence secrets?
BREHAM: Yes, exactly. The thing is that the French company paid 36 million Euros to Terasasi, the company, for “commercial engineering” and the thing is, that when you go through the files there were given from Terasasi, the only interesting element in these files is this secret evaluation of the French proposal.
LAM: So these revelations can be very awkward for the Malaysian government, given that prime minister Najib Razaw was the Defence minister back in 2002, when the submarines were commissioned?
BREHAMl: Ya, but of course it can have consequences, but you know, I’m only dealing with the legal part, so the political or the type of consequences are not in my field of competence.
LAM: Indeed, so from a legal point of view, do you think the prime minister Najib Razak is likely to be summoned to testify before the French court?
BREHAM: First of all, it’s very likely that Razak Baginda will be summoned, but I’m not the judge of course…
LAM: This is the top aide?
BREHAM: Yeah, this is the top aide. And then, if I were the judge, I would also ask for Najib Razak to be summoned. But once again, I’m not the judge and I know that my clients (SUARAM) have already asked the judge to hear Najib Razak as a witness to the case, and we’ll see what the Judge decides. But what is sure, is that if the Judge decides to summon any Malaysian person, they are legally compelled to come to France.
LAM: And of course, Abdul Razak Baginda, who was at the time, the Malaysian aide to the Defence minister, Najib Razak, he is currently living in London.. and given that he had a huge role in the firm Terasasi and also had links to Perimekar, it would seem to even a layman that his testimony is crucial to the trial?
BREHAM: True, his testimony and may be, his indictment, are crucial to the trial.
LAM: His indictment?
BREHAM: Ya, his indictment is likely, because there’re lots of elements that show that he is a key person in this case, and if the commission has proven what is not yet completely proven, is that these commissions were illegal under French law at least, under French criminal law, at least.
LAM: So if the French court were to find the defence company, DCNS, guilty of bribing Malaysian officials, then those same Malaysian officials will be unmasked, as it were? Then we would know who those Malaysian officials were?
BREHAM: Oh, and they would be guilty also, because under French criminal law, it is an offence, both to corrupt and to be corrupted.
LAM: So can you tell us where is the case heading – can you paint for us a timeline here?
BREHAM: It’s very difficult to give a clear time line. I have a similar case in Pakistan, that is lasting til 1997..
LAM: So it goes back to 1997, so this case may drag on for a few years?
BREHAM: Yes, the minimum will be one to two years, before an actual trial, because this is in the investigating phase, but the actual trial, where people are pleading and so on, this won’t happen for before a minimum one to two years, minimum.
LAM: And Joseph, I understand that the reason you’re in Bangkok is because your partner was thrown out of Malaysia, from Kuala Lumpur.. Does that show you then, that the Malaysian authorities have been far from cooperative?
BREHAM: Ah yes, that’s the minimum we can say. It even shows me that they might be very afraid of the fact that I meet with my clients, and that we can discuss freely and exercise our full rights, and it shows that they are afraid and nervous regarding this case.