Shafee went overseas for Scorpenes case, says PKR: Will he also meet Altantuya's dad?
The cat is out of the bag. Umno lawyer Shafee Abdullah has allegedly gone overseas in connection with the upcoming Scorpenes corruption trial involving arms-maker DCN and Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had authorized the Malaysian government's controversial purchase of two French submarines.
Najib has been accused of receiving kickbacks amounting to RM570 mil corruptly paid by DCN to induce him to seal the RM7bil acquisition. Top Malaysian NGO SUARAM had filed a complaint in Paris in 2010 after failing to get the Malaysian authorities to respond to angry public demands for a full-scale probe.
After more than a year of investigations, the French authorities have appointed an investigative judge and the case due to be heard in open court shortly.
"It's definitely connected in one way or another. We believe that Shafee is going overseas in relation to the Scorpenes trial," PKR MP for Batu Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.
She came to see Najib, she had something to decide with Najib
Tian was also referring to a recent offer from the father of Altantuya Shaariibuu to be a witness for SUARAM, whose testimony will directly implicate the Malaysian PM in the deal. Altantuya was murdered by 2 of Najib's former bodyguards in 2006 and her immigration records were mysteriously erased, bolstering suspicion of a cover up of the highest level.
Indeed, those who have been following the case are also wondering if Shafee had been sent to chase after Altantuya's dad to find out how much he knows and would be divulging at the French trial.
At the height of the Altantuya trial in Malaysia, speculation was red-hot that Najib and Rosmah were behind the murder. Not only were the killers their former bodyguards but Altantuya had also admitted in a letter she was blackmailing Najib's good friend Razak Baginda, a former ministry of defense strategist and believed to be Najib's proxy in the Scorpenes negotiations with DCN.
Baginda's private investigator P Balasubramiam also told the Malaysian police Altantuya came for her share of commission from the Scorpenes purchase. He stated this again in a controversial statutory declaration. Both Rosmah and Najib have denied ever knowing Altantuya, with Najib even swearing his innocence on the Quran.
But Altantuya's father Setev Shaariibuu shocked everyone when he revealed last week that his daughter had come to Malaysia specifically to see Najib and that she had shown him a photo of herself taken with Najib and Baginda.
"I asked her what was her purpose of traveling to Malaysia. She showed me a picture taken in Paris. Three people were in it — Abdul Razak Baginda, Najib, and Altantuya. She said ‘I have to meet important people’, and pointed to Najib," Setev had said last week.
“She told me she had something to decide with Najib. I told her it was not worth it but she went anyway. A lot of witnesses have seen this picture I was not the only one who saw it So did Burmaa Oyunchimeg, who was a witness and told the court about the matter during the murder trial in 2007."
Connecting the dots
A university professor, Setev was in Kuala Lumpur to try and secure a meeting with Najib over the long-delayed appeal of the two bodyguards, who were sentenced to hang in 2009. Her family is anxious to carry out last rites for her but the authorities cannot release her remains until the appeal is over. The two former Special Squad cops have been waiting for a hearing date from the Appeals Court, and pundits are betting they will have to wait until the next general election is held so as to avoid bad publicity for Najib and his BN coalition. The Malaysian judiciary is notorious for its ties with top politicians.
Another PKR leader, MP for Machang Saifuddin Nasution had complained to Parliament on Monday that Najib might be abusing his power in getting Shafee to go overseas at the expense of his existing cases, which would have to be postponed. There is also concern that Najib might again be dipping into public funds to clear himself and his wife in the French trial.
While the French prosecutors will focus on whether DCN had bribed Najib to buy the 2 Scorpenes, which have proven to be of little use and functionality in Malaysia's shallow waters, when putting the pieces together the testimony of those who played a role will also be important, such as Altantuya's or the people she had confided in, such as her dad.
The 28-year-old Altantuya, who claimed to have done translation work for Baginda had allegedly traveled with him and Najib during the deal. As she had also claimed a portion of the commission, she would therefore be able to shed light, or in Setev's words, he could "connect the dots" based on what she had told him, thereby linking Najib to the DCN bribe.
Apart from Parisian authorities, will Shafee also try to see Altantuya's dad
According to Saifuddin, Shafee requested for all his cases from April 2 to 25 to be vacated in a letter dated March 23, and addressed to Chief Justice Ariffin Zakaria, Court of Appeal president Md Raus Sharif and Chief Judge of Malaya Zulkefli Ahmad Makinuddin. Copies of Shafee's letter were also sent to the prime minister and his wife.
"(Shafee was) appointed on behalf of the government of Malaysia, in particular Najib and Rosmah, to undertake a sensitive legal assignment overseas that must be completed before the general election," Saifuddin told the august House on Monday evening.
"This would entail travel to three cities - New York, London and Dubai, and possibly Paris - for a span of at least three weeks, and over this course of time (I) would be involved in intensive legal preparations such as negotiating with parties and their witnesses, drafting claims and affidavits and interviewing witnesses who are in New York, London, Paris or Basel (Switzerland)."
Shafee not appointed by govt but who is paying his fees?
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Aziz was quick to deny that the Malaysian government had hired Shafee, but was silent on whether Shafee had been appointed by Najib and Rosmah in their personal capacities.
"We never appointed him. That was clear when the name of the prime minister's wife was mentioned. The government cannot appoint a lawyer to represent the prime minister's wife," Nazri rebutted in Parliament. Nazri further described the contents of the letter as a "personal action of the prime minister's private lawyer".
PKR MP for Subang Sivarasa Rasiah then asked if Shafee had misrepresented himself and the facts in his letter to the Chief Justice. "He might have misrepresented himself, but this is not unconstitutional," was Nazri's reply.
Visa and missing immigration records
All eyes are now on Najib, who has not said a word in response to the claims made by Altantuya's dad last week. According French newspaper La Liberation, Altantuya could speak 4 languages including Russian and had been lovers with Najib, who later "passed" her onto Baginda.
She is believed to have flow in to Malaysia in 2006 to pester for her US$500,000 share of the commission, but a jealous Rosmah refused to pay her a sen. Her two killers were also introduced to Baginda by Najib's aide-de-camp Musa Safri, another piece of damning evidence against the first couple.
Nonetheless, both Najib and wife have repeatedly denied knowing her. Baginda himself was controversially acquitted of abetting her murder in 2008. It is indeed telling that during Baginda's trial, his very anxious wife had blurted out that "It's not my husband who wants to be Prime Minister".
Najib was then the deputy prime minister and within months of taking over the top post in the government from Abdullah Badawi. He arguably had the most to lose if all the details were divulged. Even if not directly involved in her killing, his involvement in the DCN bribe is highly suspect, otherwise the French authorities would have thrown out SUARAM's complaint. Najib was defense minister in 2002, when the Scorpenes deal was hammered through despite public concern and protest that it was too costly a purchase and the subs were not suitable for the local waters.
Demands grow for a full-scale probe
That there is more than meets the eye in the murder and corruption case is clear. PKR leaders are demanding a full-scale probe given the latest revelations from Altantuya's father.
Most Malaysians do indeed believe the worst of the first couple in both incidents. As far as the public is concerned, there are just too many connections to Najib and Rosmah for the Umno-BN government not to order a full-scale public probe to satisfy national conscience and to clear them if they are indeed innocent.
The missing immigration records plus latest week's revelation by Setev that Altantuya had obtained her visa to travel overseas from Malaysia are also main issues that point to the Najibs' alleged guilt in the entire affair. Till now, no one from the Immigration Department has been able to offer any reasonable or credible explanation for the peculiarities.
“Altantuya’s father revealed that her daughter had told him that Abdul Razak Baginda had sought the help of Najib, who was then the deputy prime minister and Defence minister, and Altantuya was given a visa to go to France under the name Amina Abdullah,” Mahfuz Omar, the PAS MP for Pokok Sena, had said last week.
"We want the PM to clarify whether Shafee is going to Paris in relation to the Scorpene case. When we see Paris, we think of the Scorpene case which the prime minister has sworn he is not involved in and that he does not know Altantuya," PKR MP for Selayang William Leong Jee Keen told a press conference on Tuesday.