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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Malott: Now, even Washington is aware of Altantuya's murder

Sulaiman Kamal | 3:00 AM | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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Prime Minister Najib Razak is in the doghouse over the way he has handled several contentious issues including the July 9 Bersih 2.0 rally for free and fair elections and the recent deporting of French lawyer William Bourdon over the submarines corruption scandal.
Former US ambassador John Malott minced no words in a recent interview with Malaysia Chronicle that that the Najib administration was "shooting itself in the foot" and creating confusion in the country. The attempts by his minders to cover for him have led to even greater repercussions, with many prominent US leaders shocked when they read of the Altantuya murder by his bodyguards in reputable Washington Post.
"This is a government – even though they have spent millions on Public Relations firms and management consultants – that keeps shooting itself in the foot. The deportation of the French lawyer is only the latest example. Now, for the first time, all the juicy details of that scandal – including the model who was murdered by the PM’s bodyguards – have appeared in the Washington Post. It just adds to the confusion among people here – what kind of a country is Malaysia, anyhow? And is Najib really the person that he has portrayed himself to be?" said Malott.

Harsh as his comments may seem, Malott is only one in the long queue of Najib critics. Top Malaysian NGO Suaram had also warned that Najib was making his biggest mistake when he deported Bourdon last Friday, on fears that the renowned French human rights lawyer may expose information linking him to the Scorpene kickbacks scandal and the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder.
"It is an affront to diplomacy, to international law and common decency. It was a totally arbitrary act by the Home Ministry and a gross abuse of executive power of the Najib administration," Suaram director Cynthia Gabriel said in a statement.
"This clumsy attempt to silence the truth about the Scorpene scandal and the murder of Altantuya only serves to fortify the belief that the Prime Minister and his government is inextricably linked with the scandal."
Bersih was also a disaster
As for the Bersih rally, which some say was Malaysia's first mini Arab Spring and the door open for further such protests, given Najib's refusal to address the concerns of the people, who want clean polls. The impact of Najib's slew of bizarre actions to suppress the rally is only now filtering in from the international community.
Most have expressed disgust at the Malaysian leader's choice of conduct and are also alarmed that he may repeat the harsh action in the not too distant future to cling to power. But according to Malott, whether Malaysians stand their ground and fight for their rights and democratic space depends on civil society groups as well as the political opposition.
"Will an increasing number of Malaysians wake up and understand the status of democracy and political freedom in their country, or will it go back to business as usual, where it is just activists in civil society and the opposition who are vocal. As I said, the actions of the government, before and after July 9, backfired against them. Matthias Chang wrote that they acted with sheer stupidity," said the former US ambassador to Malaysia from 1995 to 1998
"The Government still has a chance to turn this around, but that would require them to give more political “space” to those who don’t agree with them, and to make sure that the people get to enjoy the rights that the constitution guarantees them. Will they? I have my doubts."
Malott was referring to Matthias Chang, the former political secretary to ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad, who in the runup to July 9 march had written an article, which many pundits here believed was a warning from Mahathir to Najib not to resort to Emergency or police rule.
An admission of guilt?
As for William Bourdon, he was in Malaysia last week representing the NGO in the ongoing French investigations over irregularities involved in the purchase of two Scorpene class submarines from the French state company DCN costing more than RM 7.3 billion ringgit. No reasons were given to Bourdon for his sudden detention and subsequent deportation.
So far, the French probe has uncovered 2 more paid out commissions amounting to Euro 30 and 2.5 million respectively besides the initial Euro 104 million. The beneficiaries will be exposed once the investigation moves into the open court.
In 2002, when Najib was still the defense minister, he had controversially sanctioned the purchase of the submarines amid accusations of gross over-pricing and kickbacks. In 2006, Altantuya who acted as translator for Najib's proxy in the Scorpenes deal, Razak Baginda, was murdered in Selangor by two of Najib's former bodyguards. Najib has denied involvement in the murder or having a hand in any financial impropriety in the submarines deal.
But the mountain of 'evidence' could not be ignored, leading Suaram to complain in France where it is illegal for DCN to offer any bribes to win the procurement order. If found guilty, DCN would have to compensate Malaysian taxpayers for the overpricing due to the commissions it paid out, as well as reveal the names of those Malaysian officials who accepted the bribes. Najib is believed to be one of them and he has been accused of blocking all efforts by citizen groups in Malaysia to get the local authorities to begin a long-overdue investigation.
"The government must explain its shameful action in detaining and deporting William Bourdon to the Malaysian public, and give assurances that there will be full cooperation when the case goes to the open court in France," said Cyntha. 

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