KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 ― Global rights watchdog Amnesty International raised suspicion today over the timing of Putrajaya’s sudden interest in SUARAM’s operations, noting that authorities began probing the group soon after it revealed that a close associate of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had sold Malaysian naval secrets to France.
The revelation was made by French lawyer Joseph Breham, who is acting for Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) in the ongoing inquiry on the Scorpene submarine scandal in Paris, during a May 30 press conference in Bangkok.
“Amnesty is concerned that the recent government actions against SUARAM appear to be linked to the organisation’s legitimate work, in particular a corruption case which it has brought before the French courts.
“The government began these actions against SUARAM four weeks after the organisation disclosed new information from documents made available by the French public prosecutor’s office, which implicate Malaysian officials in the corruption allegations,” AI said in a statement here.
SUARAM recently came under close scrutiny of the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) due to its foreign funding sources, and the government agency said earlier this week that it plans to charge the activist group for its “misleading accounts”.
The human rights NGO has been actively pursuing the Scorpene scandal in the French courts, determined to expose alleged government corruption in the multibillion purchase of the submarines in 2009 and possibly reopen the murder case of Mongolian model Altantuyaa Shaariibuu, which has been linked to the deal.
In April this year, the Tribunal de Grand Instance in Paris began its inquiry into SUARAM’s claim that the French naval firm DCNS had paid some RM452 million as a bribe to Malaysian officials to obtain a contract for two submarines. SUARAM had filed the complaint with the French courts in 2009.
In the May 30 press conference, Breham had revealed that a classified government document on the Malaysian navy’s evaluation of the Scorpene submarines it was then planning to buy had been sold by Terasasi (Hong Kong) Ltd to DCNS for RM142 million.
Abdul Razak Baginda, a former think-tank head who was at the centre of the 2006 investigation into Altantuya’s murder, is listed as a director of Terasasi with his father, Abdul Malim Baginda. Abdul Razak is said to be a close associate to Najib.
“It was a secret document by the Malaysian navy, an evaluation for the order of the submarines, which is a highly confidential report,” Breham had said at the conference.
Amnesty recalled that on July 3, a little past four weeks after the revelation by SUARAM’s lawyer was made, the NGO suddenly received a visit from the CCM with a notice of inspection.
A few months later, the group became the subject of much “harassment and intimidation” from the Malaysian authorities, it added.
Amnesty added that the harassment “appears to be a concerted, multi-departmental government campaign against SUARAM, one of Malaysia’s leading human rights groups”.
“The Malaysian government should respect SUARAM’s right as a human rights organisation to seek and receive funding, rather than abuse its power to intimidate human rights defenders,” the group said.