A decision made in Paris last month means that one of this region’s most sensational episodes is going to resurface with a vengeance.
It began a dozen years ago when Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak held the defence portfolio and ordered two Scorpene submarines from the French shipbuilder, DCNS, for about US$400 million each.
The deal was brokered by Razak Baginda, who ran the Malaysian Strategic Research Institute, which was funded by Najib and designed to further his political career.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me reveal that I met Razak regularly during my posting in Kuala Lumpur in the 1990s and continue to see him each time I visit Malaysia.
When he became pointman for the Scorpene purchase, however, I had left KL and did not see him again until we met in Venice, Italy, at the 2002 ASEAN-Europe conference.
Razak attended only briefly and when I asked why he was rushing off, he said he was needed in Paris for an important defence deal.
Later, it was revealed in the Malaysian parliament that the “commission” for the sub contract was 114 million euros, or about $160 million at the time.
The money was paid into the KL bank account of Perimekar, a company set up by Razak just before the contract was signed and which had no track record of handling defence procurements.
It is alleged that the $160 million was split between Razak, Najib and other figures in the United Malays National Organisation, the dominant party in Malaysia’s ruling National Front coalition.
Based on this allegation, the French police raided the offices of DCNS and seized a stack of documents indicating the payment of massive bribes.
And last month, after examining the documents, Judge Roger Le Loire ordered a criminal investigation to be launched.
It will almost certainly involve filing subpoenas for both Razak and Prime Minister Najib to appear in court.
Before considering that dramatic prospect, however, we must recall that when negotiating the contract, something amazing happened to Razak.
He fell in love.
Now although Razak, a family man with a high-profile public image, had long emulated the philandering reputation of his mentor Najib, this latest affair was completely different.
He fell hook, line and sinker for the woman – a stunningly beautiful Mongolian model named Altantuya “Tuya” Shaaribuu.
Soon after meeting her in Hong Kong, Razak took her off to tour Europe in his red Ferrari, wining and dining at all the best spots and finally ending up in Paris where they met Najib.
Multilingual Tuya, as well as being drop-dead gorgeous, was also smart and quickly learned about the huge bribe for the sub deal and doubtless envisaged a handsome cut for herself.
But succumbing to “fatal attraction syndrome”, she clung relentlessly to Razak, and he, fearing that her indiscretions might bring him down, tried to end the affair.
She would not have it, and in desperation, he spoke to Najib and the police were called in to keep her away.
Two aggressive Special Branch officers took their assignment literally and kidnapped her.
Then they raped her, shot her in the head and blew up her body with C4 explosives from Najib’s defence ministry – and for good measure, erased her entry into Malaysia from immigration records.
In effect, she vanished.
But thanks to continued pressure from her well-connected family and the Mongolian Embassy, the crime was eventually uncovered and those involved arrested – all except Najib, of course.
After a long, lurid and electrifying trial, the two cops were sentenced to death and Razak was acquitted. Now, however, with the launch of Judge Le Loire’s investigation in Paris, it appears he could soon be back in court.
And PM Najib may not escape so easily either, since the issue will be raised in parliament next week and will impact the coming general election.
Contact our regional insider Roger at [email protected]