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Jalbir Singh Chahl has been summoned by the French court to testify in Malaysia’s RM7.3 billion Scorpene submarines

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Prime Minister Najib Razak may be able to hide his nervousness over news that Malaysian NGO SUARAM had managed to collect more than RM200,000 from a fundraising dinner held on Friday.

But news that the right-hand man of his close friend Razak Baginda has been summoned by the French court to testify in Malaysia’s RM7.3 billion Scorpene submarines acquisition, and has promised to co-operate fully with the Parisian probe is bound to send a shiver down the PM’s spine.

“He has confirmed his cooperation with us,” SUARAM coordinator Cynthia Gabriel told the dinner guests.

She was referring to Jalbir Singh Chahl, who was Baginda’s trusted lieutenant in Perimekar, the firm through which at least 114 million euros or RM570 million in illicit commission is suspected to have been channeled.

Moving concretely – Jalibir is the first witness to be summoned by the French investigative judge since open-court trial began in early April. It is illegal in France for anyone to offer commissions to entice and seal a deal. The 2 Scorpene submarines were ordered by Najib in 2002, when he was the defense minister, and hammered through by his ruling Umno party despite public outcry.

Although Najib has denied any improper conduct, the Umno-BN government and state agencies including the police and Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission have stubbornly refused to initiate any probe.

This forced SUARAM to file a complaint in Paris in 2010 against DCNS, which if found guilty may have to compensate the Malaysian people for the inflated pricing caused by the bribes. It would also force the Malaysian government to finally respond to calls for a full-scale public inquiry into the deal.

“As we sit at the dinner tables right this moment, a subpoena is on the way to Mr Jalbir Singh Chahl’s house. The case is moving forward more concretely,” said Cynthia, drawing loud cheers.

Public unhappiness with the corruption not to be taken lightly

SUARAM also managed to collect more than RM200,000 from the dinner attended by more than 1,000 people. The numbers are telling. That such a large group responded and donated generously to help pay the French legal fees is proof of how strongly Malaysians feel about Najib’s controversial deal.

Not only have the submarines been found to be not suitable for local waters but the size of the huge bribes DCNS allegedly paid Malaysian officials including Najib and Baginda, who brokered the deal for the Malaysian government, have astonished the people.

Intertwined into the corruption scandal is the murder of a Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was killed while trying to blackmail Baginda for her share of commission, and this may well be the final straw.

Two of Najib’s former bodyguards have been sentenced to hang for the brutal killing but most Malaysian believe they were just the ‘hired help’ and the real puppet-masters still to be caught.

Documents seized by the French police have thrown up information that could link Altantuya to the submarines deal, and this could shed further light on why she was murdered.

Who NEXT after Jalbir?

Despite the success of Friday’s dinner, SUARAM officials warned that the French trial was at the beginning stage and more funds would be needed to see the case to the end.

After Jalbir, all eyes are on when the French court will summon Baginda, Najib and current defense minister Zahid Hamidi to testify and whether they would agree to co-operate and clear their names – especially Baginda and Najib.

“We are open to any support in the fight against corruption,” said SUARAM executive director E Nalini.