PETALING JAYA: Dr Mahathir Mohamad says as far as he knows, the 2002 purchase of Scorpene submarines was never discussed in the cabinet during his tenure as prime minister.
Mahathir, who stepped down in 2003, told The Malaysian Insight that there were no cabinet papers on the purchase, either.
He said he only discovered that the defence minister at that time – Najib Razak – had made the order after his resignation.
Malaysia’s purchase of the Scorpene submarines has been mired in controversy following allegations of kickbacks, which triggered a French probe into firms involved in the deal.
Yesterday, AFP reported that Abdul Razak Baginda, a close associate of Najib, had been charged in France with “active and passive complicity in corruption” and “misappropriation of corporate assets” in the deal.
Razak had advised Najib during the latter’s tenure as defence minister between 2000 and 2008.
Speaking to The Malaysian Insight, Mahathir said the decision to purchase the submarines was likely made when he was prime minister although he had not been informed of it.
He added that Najib had kept a low profile during his time in Mahathir’s cabinet.
“He did not commit any offences, as far as I can tell. Even with the Scorpene purchase, I was not informed of that,” Mahathir was quoted as saying.
Najib oversaw the deal worth nearly €1 billion (RM5 billion) to buy two Scorpene-class submarines and one Agosta-class submarine from French naval dockyards unit DCN, which is linked to French defence group Thales.
As part of the deal, DCN agreed to pay €30 million to Thales’ Asian unit, Thales International Asia (Thint Asia).
An investigation into the deal was launched in 2010 in response to a complaint from Malaysian rights group Suaram.
French investigators are also looking into allegations that €114 million was paid to a purported Malaysia-based shell company, Perimekar, as part of the deal. That company was controlled at the time by Razak’s wife.