Malaysia holds French lawyer in submarine probe

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Malaysian officials on Friday detained a French lawyer who represents a human rights group involved in an inquiry into alleged corruption linked to Prime Minister Najib Razak, an activist said.

The Malaysian government has dismissed graft allegations linked to the $1.1-billion submarine purchase in 2002, saying it is an opposition-backed attempt to smear Najib's image.

At the request of Malaysian human rights group Suaram, French judicial officials opened a probe in March 2010 into the sale of the two Scorpene submarines, which were made by French shipbuilder DCN.

William Bourdon, Suaram's lawyer in France, was detained by immigration officials when his plane arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Friday, said the group's director Cynthia Gabriel, who was travelling with him.

Gabriel said authorities did not say why he was held.

Bourdon, who had traveled to Malaysia earlier this week, was on a domestic flight back from northern Penang state where he had spoken at a Suaram fundraiser about the ongoing probe.

"He has been detained, and there is a high likelihood he can be deported. That's all I can say for now," Gabriel said.

Immigration authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

The French investigation is part of a wider probe against DCN over other defence deals in Pakistan and Taiwan.

Suaram alleges DCN paid a commission of 114 million euros ($160 million) to a company called Perimekar, which is linked to Abdul Razak Baginda, an associate of Najib's.

Abdul Razak has been acquitted of charges of abetting the 2006 murder of his mistress, Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu, which the opposition has also been trying to link to Najib.

But Najib has denied any link to that case. The Malaysian government has also maintained that the submarine deal, brokered when Najib was defence minister, was free of graft and that Perimekar had not improperly benefited.

© 2011 AFP

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