Malaysia deports French lawyer in submarine bribe probe

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 23, 2011 4:28 AM
Malaysia deports French lawyer in submarine bribe probe

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian authorities have deported a French lawyer representing a human rights group alleging corruption in the government's $1.2 billion purchase of submarines from French shipbuilder DCNS.

The case could embarrass Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was defense minister at the time the submarines were bought, and who is widely expected to call for general elections next year.

Malaysia's Immigration department said in a statement late on Friday that the lawyer, William Bourdon, was arrested after arriving at Kuala Lumpur international airport earlier that day from Penang in the north.

"Investigations by the Immigration Department revealed that Mr. Bourdon had violated the terms of his Social Visit Pass," the statement said, adding he would be deported on the earliest available flight.

Bourdon later left the country on a flight to France, said Cynthia Gabriel, director of the Voice of the Malaysian People (SUARAM), which Bourdon represents.

Malaysia signed a deal in 2002 to purchase two submarines from DCNS, which is part-owned by defense electronics group Thales.

Gabriel said Bourdon last year filed a complaint on behalf of SUARAM with a French prosecutor alleging that DCNS paid a 114 million euro ($164 million) fee to a Malaysian company linked to a former associate of Najib's in relation to the submarine purchase.

Najib and the Malaysian government have strongly denied the allegations. Officials from Najib's office could not be immediately reached for comment.

"The case has completed the first stage which is at the public prosecutor level and is expected to be heard in an open court in France in September or October," said Gabriel.

Bourdon arrived in Malaysia on Thursday and gave a talk at a fundraising dinner in the country's northern Penang state to help SUARAM raise funds for the legal case, she said.

(Reporting by Razak Ahmad; editing by Liau Y-Sing and Daniel Magnowski)