When Kua Kia Soong says he has been concerned about arms spending in Malaysia for “a long time” he means for about four decades.The years spent in keen observation of the government’s defence spending culminated in 1994 when he blew the whistle on the “Arms-for-Aid scandal.The fiasco revolved around the funding of the Pergau hydroelectric dam which was linked to RM5 billion in arms sales to British overseas aid in the form of Aid and Trade Provision (ATP) funding.
Kua, who was Petaling Jaya MP for DAP at the time, was disgusted that while the British media pounced on the scandal, its Malaysian counterparts chose to turn a blind eye.
He has since then traded his parlimentarian seat for that of Suaram director but the swap has done nothing to abate his vigilance of the government’s arms spending.
It has instead propelled him into the heart of the country’s most high profile arms deal – the purchase of two Scorpene submarines from France.
The deal is mired in controversy with allegations of kickbacks and linked to the murder of Mongolian national, Altantuya Shaariibuu.
“The Scorpene French provider, DCNS, is well-known to have given commissions in the Karachi case and also in its sale of frigates to Taiwan,” Kua, 60, explained to FMT.
(The Karachi car bomb in May 2002 was reported to be related to a case of retro-commissions and kickbacks involving the Pakistani state and French politicians for an arms deal.)
Suaram’s suspicions arose as it studied the scandals involving DCNS and it began enquiring about the possibility of pursuing the commissions involved in the Scorpene deal.
“We discovered that (French human rights lawyer) William Bourdon was pursuing the cases in the French judicial system so we got in touch with him,” Kua said. “Bourdon responded positively as he had been shadowing the Karachi and Taiwan cases which were linked to DCNS”.
Suaram applied through its French lawyers as a civil party for a judicial review in the French court in November 2009 to investigate the submarine deal. In April 2010, the French courts accepted the request to investigate Suaram’s claim of corruption. The French investigative judge who will hear the case will be picked next month.
Bourdon however was given the boot back to Paris by the Malaysian government during his visit here last month after he spoke at a Scorpene fundraising dinner in Penang. His deportation was decried by various quarters as an attempt by the government to muzzle the truth.
Here are excerpts from the interview with Kua:
Did Suaram consider hiring a local lawyer for the Scorpene case?
Hiring a local lawyer to do what? The Malaysian judicial system has failed as far as getting to the real culprits who are responsible for Altantuya’s murder. Did the Malaysian court try to delve into the possibility of commissions in the submarine deal? No.
This recourse to the French courts is possible through the inquisitorial system in France. It is different from the British/Malaysian system in that the judge there has investigative powers.
It is possible to pursue this in France because the submarine purveyor is their French state company DCNS and what is at issue has consequences for both French and Malaysian tax payers.
What are your main concerns regarding the Scorpene deal?
The Scorpene submarines are the biggest single arms purchase to date costing more than RM7 billion. Firstly do we need submarines in our defence policy? If we do, we really require at least 10 submarines to be able to properly cover Malaysian waters!
Secondly this mammoth arms deal is merely an opportunity for huge commissions to be paid to government officials. These are normally very difficult to prove but at last, the French judicial provides us with a rare opportunity to get at the truth surrounding the commissions.
How hopeful are you that the French courts will be able to uncover this truth?
The French judicial system is more independent and with the investigative judge being able to order DCNS officials to court and for search and subpoena powers to probe documents in the DCNS offices, I believe we should be able to produce evidence to show that commissions were given out.
In fact we know that during the investigations into the older Karachi case, DCNS officials have revealed their knowledge of commissions being paid out in all their arms dealings.
Do you think that the investigations would also shed light onto Altantuya’s murder?
If per chance, there are journals made by DCNS officials in the loop, we might well come up with such information surrounding Altantuya’s murder.
If the French court rules a misappropriation of public funds on Malaysia’s side of the purchase, what would be Suaram’s next course of action ?
We will call for the prime minister (Najib Tun Razak) to resign and for a judicial review of the Altantuya murder case. If the government stalls on this, then it is time for a mass protest bigger than any the country has ever seen. I think this is the strength of the people’s feelings about this case.
Will Bourdon be returning to Malaysia anytime soon?
After the rude and uncivil treatment he got at KLIA, I doubt he will be in a hurry to return to Malaysia under the BN government. He only came to brief Suaram and Malaysians about the case in France and to give us assurance that he would do his utmost to get to the truth.
The Defence Minister (Ahmad Zahidi) merely exposed his ignorance of the case when he implied that Bourdon was here to “defend the case in Malaysia”.
By detaining and deporting a world-renowned lawyer, the BN government has undone everything the Tourism Ministry has been trying to do to portray the country as a civilised country that respects human rights, international law and Asian values.