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
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).
“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.
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”.
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