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Sensational Malaysian submarine scandal resurfaces

KUALA LUMPUR -- A scandal linking Malaysia's leader, a young woman's murder and alleged kickbacks in a French submarine deal has resurfaced as a potential danger for the government as elections loom.

Even by the corruption-prone standards of Malaysia's long-ruling coalition, which since 2009 has been headed by Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Scorpene case is explosive.

It centers on allegations that French submarine maker DCNS paid commission of more than 114 million euros (US$142 million) to a purported shell company linked to Abdul Razak Baginda, a former close associate of Najib.

Malaysia's opposition claims the payments were kickbacks to top officials involved in a US$1.1 billion deal for Kuala Lumpur to buy two Scorpene-class attack submarines.

Abdul Razak's Mongolian mistress, who was said to have demanded a payoff for working as a language translator in the deal, was shot dead and her body blown up with plastic explosives near the capital in 2006.

But the extraordinary affair sank off the radar in 2008 when a Malaysian court cleared Abdul Razak of abetting the murder, sparking an outcry and opposition allegations of a huge cover-up.

Calls for further investigation were not pursued at the time.

Now, though, the affair is back in the headlines with a vengeance after French judges, acting on a complaint by opposition-leaning Malaysian rights group Suaram, launched a new probe in April.

Since then Malaysia's online media has been aflutter with talk of new “evidence” that Suaram and its lawyers say has been turned up by the judges.

They include an allegation that a classified Malaysian defense ministry report on the country's naval needs was sold to French defense giant Thales, which part-owns DCNS, possibly to help land the contract, according to Suaram's lawyer Joseph Breham.

Najib was defense minister in 2002 when the Scorpenes were ordered.

Malaysia's current defense minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, told parliament on Tuesday that no confidential information was leaked or corruption involved in the submarine deal.

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This file photo taken on Sept. 3, 2009 shows a French-made submarine, Malaysia's first, as it reaches its naval base in Port Klang on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. (AFP)

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