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Malaysia reopens investigation into French submarine deal, calling in former prime minister Najib Razak for questioning

  • Najib, his wife and allies have been hit with a flurry of charges since his surprise election loss earlier this year
  • The submarine deal is alleged to have involved more than US$134 million in kickbacks, paid to a close associate of Najib
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 10:47am

Fallen Malaysian leader Najib Razak is being questioned over the purchase of two French-made submarines, in the latest investigation to engulf the former prime minister since his government’s ousting.

Najib, his wife and key allies have been hit with a flurry of charges since his surprise election loss earlier this year as public anger crescendoed over a series of corruption scandals.

Most of the charges have stemmed from the 1MDB affair, in which top officials allegedly looted billions from a government fund to go on a worldwide spending spree.

But the latest probe centres around a controversial US$1.2 billion deal, signed sixteen years ago when Najib was defence minister, to purchase two Scorpene-class submarines.

“Najib is being probed with regards to the purchase of the two Scorpene-class submarines,” said an official inside the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Najib is being probed with regards to the purchase of the two Scorpene-class submarines
Malaysian anti-corruption official

“On Monday, MACC officials grilled Najib for four hours over the deal,” the officer added, requesting anonymity.

The submarine deal has long been mired in controversy.

A French submarine maker - then called DCNS - is alleged to have paid more than 114 million euros (US$134 million) in kickbacks to a shell company linked to Abdul Razak Baginda, a close Najib associate who brokered the deal.

Razak Baginda’s Mongolian mistress Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was said to have demanded a cut for translating during negotiations, was shot dead and her body blown up with military-grade plastic explosives near Kuala Lumpur in 2006.

The case sank off the radar after a Malaysian court in 2008 cleared Razak Baginda of abetting the murder, sparking allegations of a huge cover-up to protect Najib. But Najib’s election defeat has reignited interest from Malaysia’s anti-corruption body.

The MACC official said Razak Baginda may also be hauled up to assist in their investigation of the submarine purchase.

A French investigation since 2010 has already led to four French executives involved in the deal being charged, as well as an open criminal case against Razak Baginda.

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Both Razak Baginda and Najib’s government have denied any wrongdoing - as have the four French executives.

DCNS has since changed its name to Naval Group. It is part owned by the French state and by French multinational giant Thales.

A spokesman from Thales declined to comment on the earlier court proceedings, as did a spokesman for Naval Group - who nevertheless added: “We scrupulously respect all the relevant national and international legislations”.

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Earlier investigations by Malaysian authorities did not find any evidence linking Najib directly to corruption in the deal.

The 1MDB fund is the subject of corruption and money-laundering investigations in at least six countries. About US$4.5 billion is believed to have been siphoned from the fund, with about US$700 million of that diverted into Najib’s personal bank accounts. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Additional reporting by Reuters