The Financial Times
Paris prosecutors have launched a formal investigation into whether Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, was paid bribes over a long-contentious $1.2bn arms deal when he was defence minister.A judge will probe whether Bernard Baiocco, former president of French defence group Thales International Asia, paid illegal kickbacks to Mr Najib via an associate of the prime minister to win a 2002 contract for two submarines, according to people close to the case.Mr Najib, Mr Baiocco and Abdul Razak Baginda, the suspected middleman, have denied wrongdoing.
The affair adds to the storm of international investigations buffeting Mr Najib from the separate scandal swirling round 1MDB, the state investment fund whose advisory board he chairs, over alleged misappropriation of money.
The French arms deal generated intrigue in Malaysia because of the 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a young Mongolian woman who had a relationship with Mr Baginda. Civil society groups and Mr Najib’s opponents alleged a link between the killing and the submarine deal. Both Mr Najib and Mr Baginda, who was cleared of involvement in Ms Altantuya’s murder at a 2008 trial, deny there is any connection.
The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed — following a report by news agency AFP — that Mr Baiocco had been placed under formal investigation on suspicion of “bribery of foreign public officials” and “complicity in misuse of corporate assets”.
The inquiry relates to the sale of the pair of Scorpene-class attack submarines from a joint venture between Thales and fellow defence company DCN, now called DCNS. Thales and DCNS both declined to comment on the French inquiry.
French prosecutors declined to name the Malaysian officials suspected of being bribed. But three people close to the investigation — including Jean-Yves Le Borgne, Mr Baiocco’s lawyer — told the Financial Times that judicial documents named Mr Najib and Mr Baginda.
Mr Le Borgne also confirmed money had been paid by his client to Mr Baginda for lobbying work. But he said the prosecutors were attempting “judicial acrobatics” in trying to prove the cash found its way to Mr Najib or any government official.
“There was no corruption. The money paid by my client’s company to Mr Baginda was for lobbying,” he said. “They [the prosecutors] suspect the minister received some money but they have never had anything to prove that.” Continue reading