But it looks like it is Najib himself who has and will again put the country in the greatest media spotlight of, regrettably, the negative sort. It is almost certain that as the main protagonist, he will be called by the French courts to testify over a suspiciously expensive acquisition of 2 Scorpene and one Agosta submarines in 2002.
The Malaysian leader faces allegations of having received kickbacks, whether directly or indirectly, from French arms-maker DCN.
"Our lawyers have advised us that it could take anything from the next few weeks or the next couple of months until a judge is appointed for the open trial in France," SUARAM director Cynthia Gabriel told a press conference on Monday.
According to Cynthia, SUARAM lawyers had informed that the inquiry stage by the Parisian legal authorities was nearing an end, and the next move would be the "full trial" stage, where witnesses will be called.
In Malaysia, the 58-year old Najib has leveraged on his ruling party and political connections to cover up the case, even though it also included a full-blown murder case.
A 28-year old Mongolian translator, alleged to be his former mistress and the jilted lover of his close friend Razak Baginda, was shot in the head and blown up with military-grade C4 explosives by two of his former bodyguards.
Information gleaned from the letters she wrote showed that Altantuya Shaariibuu had come to Kuala Lumpur in 2006 to demand her US$500,000 share of the commission paid by DCN. But according a private investigator hired by Baginda, Najib's wife Rosmah forbade the men to pay her a cent.
Baginda has been accused of being Najib's proxy in the kickbacks. Perimekar, a firm with no track record and connected to him, received a side-deal worth 114 million euros or about RM530 million to service the submarines.
Furthermore, the proceedings in France have found that three commissions instead of one were paid for the sale of the submarines.
"In addition to that of 114 million euros, there are two further instalments, one paid by DCN to the commercial networks of Thalès, for over 30 million euros, corresponding to "commercial fees relating to the negotiation and execution of the contract," another SUARAM director Kua Kia Soong said in a statement.
"This second commission was paid by Thalès to a recipient, who remains unknown, in order to convince the Malaysian government of the need to conduct additional work. The third commission was for 2.5 million euros."
It was also found that Gifen, a company established in Malta, facilitated the "money transfers in this case", and particularly financed the trips of Baginda and Altantuya.
Mystery new link to Najib
Last week, Cynthia told Malaysia Chronicle that their lawyers have since received knowledge of a "third person" who travelled frequently with Baginda and Altantuya during the negotiations with DCN.
She declined to name the person, but speculation is rife that this was another link to Najib, who had been the Defense minister in 2002 and had directly sanctioned the purchase.
The French courts can be expected to demand information from DCN, Najib and Baginda as to whether Altantuya had indeed played a role in the submarines deal. At the very least, the money transfers by Gifen would require an explanation for her role in the acquisition.
In her murder trial, the Malaysian courts refused to allow any mention of the submarines despite the high probability there was a connection to her death.
"The submarine deal was never brought up in court during the murder trial which saw prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge judiciously keeping Najib's name out of the proceedings," said Kua.
"After being acquitted in November 2008 under questionable circumstances of participating in her murder, Razak Baginda left the country for England. The bodyguards were convicted but no motive was ever established for their actions."
Malaysians will faint
Knowing their PM, few Malaysians expect Najib or Baginda will attend the trial. The French courts have no jurisdiction to force their appearance but it can demand the truth from DCN.
"If Najib goes, I think Malaysians will faint. But it is very odd when a deal of such a huge size involving the country's money, and the parties involved are giant world conglomerates, that a Prime Minister chickens out. Especially when he was the one who was in charge," PKR vice president Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.
"If Najib does that, he has already told the world he is guilty as charged. Malaysians and UMNO itself must then demand his immediate resignation. A full probe by the Malaysian Anti Corrutpion Commission must also be carried out."
Just a day ago, current Defense minister Zahid Hamidi gave a hint as to what the Najib response was likely to be. Zahid will be made the sacrificial lamb and tasked to appear in the French courts, rather than Najib. But even this is likely to be cancelled as Zahid himself has hinted.
“If the Cabinet doesn’t allow it, then I don’t have to go,” Zahid told reporters on Sunday.
SUARAM's French lawyers are due to arrive in KL to brief their client and other citizen groups in July. The NGO is Malaysia's top human rights activist group. It got into the act after failing to get satisfactory answers from the government. Protest by citizens' groups were similarly ignored and even opposition politicians were stonewalled when they asked 'tough' question of the RM6.7 billion purchase in Parliament.
"SUARAM hopes the French justice system will reveal more than what the Malaysian judicial system has failed to deliver so far and will bring justice and closure to the family of Altantuya, and force the French and Malaysian Governments to account to their peoples regarding the commissions on the submarines contract," said Kua.
The NGO has also started a fund for its French legal fees and aims to raise RM100,000. Parisian lawyer William Bourdon, who is pursuing the case, will attend and give the latest update. The functions will be hed in Penang on July 21 and in Kuala Lumpur on July 23. Details can be found on the SUARAM website, along with their banking details for those who wish to donate.
“RM100,000 will not amount to much in euros and is just a starting fund. We expect we will have to continue to raise funds as the case proceeds,” said Cynthia.
- Malaysia Chronicle
Written by Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle