Malaysia

French official says Scorpene probe not at trial stage yet

SUARAM had filed for an inquiry in France over allegations of corruption involving Malaysia’s purchase of Scorpene submarines from French firm DCNS. — Reuters picSUARAM had filed for an inquiry in France over allegations of corruption involving Malaysia’s purchase of Scorpene submarines from French firm DCNS. — Reuters picKUALA LUMPUR, Oct 8 — A prominent French government prosecutor has denied reports circulating among some Malaysian online news portals of an ongoing trial in France, on allegations of corruption by a French company over the purchase of two French-made Scorpene submarines by Malaysia in 2002.

Yves Charpenel said the media in Malaysia should be able to distinguish between rumours and facts, and between investigations and a trial.

“I am aware about all the fuss kicked up by certain media (organisations) in Malaysia over this matter but what I can say is that this is nothing more than a trial by the media,” he told Bernama here today.

Charpenel, who was a former head of prosecution in France and now a state prosecutor and an executive member of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (IAACA), was here to attend the four-day IAACA conference and general meeting which ended yesterday.

Following a complaint filed in 2009 by Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), a Malaysian human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO), that a French company had allegedly paid bribes to a Malaysian firm for the submarine deal, he revealed that two independent “investigating judges” started their investigations earlier this year.

Charpenel said that in France, as in other countries practising the rule of law, all investigations were done in absolute secret.

He said it was anybody’s right to file a complaint and due to the secret nature of the investigations, some resorted to complaining to the media.

He explained that for specific cases in France, the Justice Ministry would ask an independent judge, called an “investigating judge”, to investigate.

“He is just an investigator. This is an old system that started from the Napolean era. If the investigating judge wants someone to come to Malaysia, he has to ask from your government because we have what is called the Treaty of Mutual Legal Assistance. And the Malaysian government can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It has to be decided by the Malaysian authorities.

“A French investigating judge cannot take his luggage, take a plane and go to Malaysia and ask someone to answer his questions. It is impossible, it is against the French law and it is also against international law,” stressed Charpenel.

He pointed out that in France, as elsewhere, the course of justice would not be dictated by the media.

As he put it, “In France, the time of justice is different from the time in media. Of course, the media needs data, information, news. It’s natural but the investigation is quite different. This is exactly the same, whether in France or in Malaysia.

“And, it has to be secret. We are now in the first step, maybe, we got another step, maybe not, and it is quite early to say more.”

Asked about media reports that French lawyers representing SUARAM in the suit would be coming to Malaysia to brief their clients, Charpenel said any lawyer from any country was free to do so because he was paid by his clients.

“He can speak freely to the press, that’s freedom or human rights. But he is not a prosecutor. He is not an investigating judge. He is not an official.”

In April this year, local opposition politicians here had even called for Malaysian officials to testify in Paris or risk being ostracised in the European Union.

“A trial is a trial with all the rules. Investigation is another thing,” said Charpenel of the misinformation generated by certain news portals over allegations that a trial was already underway.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also said over the weekend that the Auditor-General had declared the Scorpene deal was done in accordance with legal procedures. — Bernama

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