YESTERDAY, I gave an interview to Sarah Stewart, the Bureau Chief of AFP in Malaysia. Among the things she asked me was the unavoidable question about the international scandal linking Datuk Seri Najib Razak with the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu and with the purchase of the Scorpene submarines.
I told her that in my long experience as a politician, the only way to clear one’s name when a scandal has broken out around oneself is to meet it head-on in the court of law.
The BMF scandal of the 1980s also had its share of lurid details. There, too, a large sum of money and a murder was involved. An unseen hand had woven the threads of the story around me (then the finance minister) to destroy me politically. But when international newspapers alleged that I was involved in any wrongdoing, I took action against each and every one of them in their home jurisdictions.
I sued the Telegraph and The Sunday Times of the UK, and The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong. I won all three cases; the newspapers published unreserved apologies and printed retractions covering half a broadsheet page each, and I came away with a tidy sum of money for my trouble.
It is safe to say that in the international media, the incoming Umno president and the presumptive prime minister is being evaluated through the Altantuya scandal.
The UK’s Sunday Times, The International Herald Tribune, the French daily Libération, The Australian Financial Review, The Far Eastern Economic Review and the New York Times have all published stories raising questions about the link between the murdered young woman, Najib, and the gigantic commission paid out by the French company Armaris to a Malaysian company for the purchase of submarines. This is now an international story.
And this story will not go away. With its dramatic details and the alleged involvement of elite Malaysian government operatives, it captures the journalistic imagination. But the story is now connected with an ongoing investigation into the dealings of a major French company. The story is also going to stick around because it is a handy looking-glass into Malaysia’s “increasingly dysfunctional political system.”
It implicates our entire system of government, our judiciary, and our press, and it casts a shadow on our ability as a nation to face and tell the truth. Against this backdrop, promises of reform ring hollow. The storyline of the New York Times article, for example, is that scandal-clouded succession reveals a once confident young country shaken to its foundations by institutional rot. I cannot say this is inaccurate.
(Pic by Daniel Bonnerue / Wikimedia)The scandal is bringing shame to the nation and damaging our international credibility. For the honour of the nation, for the honour of the office of prime minister, for the honour of the sovereign institutions expected to endorse, confirm and lend authority to him should he become prime minister, Najib should finally face these suspicions and implied charges, submit himself to legal scrutiny, and come clean on them.
Swearing on the Quran is not the way out. Scoundrels have been known to do that. The truth, established through the rigorous and public scrutiny of the law, is the only remedy if an untrue story has gained currency not just internationally but at home among a large section of the people.
Najib should voluntarily offer to testify at the trial of the two officers charged with killing Altantuya Shaariibuu. He could also write to these newspapers and if necessary he should take legal action against them to clear his name and that of our country.
Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah
25 March 2009