They told the prime minister that chasing Bourdon out of Malaysia would not absolve him of blame but, instead, would resurrect the ghost of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaaribuu.
Lim claimed that Najib ‘is trying to cover up the matter’. — File pic
Altantuya, who was killed in 2006 and blown up with C4 explosives, has been linked to the government’s controversial RM7 billion Scorpene submarines purchase from French defence company DCNS which is now under probe in France. The purchase was made while Najib headed the Defence Ministry.
Bourdon, who is handling the case in France, was held by immigration officers yesterday morning upon landing at the KLIA in Sepang from Penang where he had briefed an audience on the progress of the probe.
“This strange move would only fuel public suspicion that something is terribly amiss in the Scorpene case… which, of course, is linked to Altantuya’s case.
“Instead of coming clean, he (Najib) is trying to cover up the matter. Everyone knows that Bourdon will be in the country to explain the progress of the case, that he is trying to prise open the layers of secrets surrounding the Scorpene deal, which is related to the murder case,” said DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang.
Lim pointed out that Malaysians were already aware of the RM540 million in commission for the submarine deal paid to Perimeker Sdn Bhd, a company run by Abdul Razak Baginda, and are now demanding answers if the sum was paid as “corruption money”.
Abdul Razak, who was tried for abetting in Altantuya’s murder but was later acquitted, was said to be Najib’s close aide when the deal was made in 2002.
“Najib has committed himself to fighting corruption so this RM540 million must be subject to a public audit. Was it justifiable? How was it spent? All these details must be scrutinised via an independent public inquiry so that Malaysians will know whether it was a genuine above-board deal,” said Lim.
Nurul Izzah said Bourdon’s deportation would return to haunt the Najib administration.
He castigated the prime minister for failing to address the matter and said that the government should not wait to be exposed in a foreign country but should initiate its own proceedings.
“The French prosecution is trying to decide if there is a case to go to trial but why wait? Najib has the responsibility to answer to Malaysians. Establish a commission and give the full details of the procurement,” said Lim.
PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar agreed with Lim that Bourdon’s deportation last night would return soon to haunt the Najib administration.
She however warned that any information revealed in the French courts would eventually reach Malaysia and could not be swept under the carpet.
“They (Najib administration) prefer to sweet dirt under the carpet… deport possible whistleblowers and gag such exposes through their control over the mainstream media. The fact that information is globally obtainable stops them dead in their tracks,” she told The Malaysian Insider via SMS today.
The Lembah Pantai MP pointed out that if it were to be proven that DCNS had paid kickbacks to Malaysian officials for the Scorpene deal, they would be compelled to pay compensation.
“Sadly, Malaysia under Najib rejects this clear mechanism to hold the government accountable to transparent procurement practices,” she said.
(Yahoo News/Malaysiakini) – Investigations by French authorities into the controversial RM7.3 billion Scorpene submarine deal , which allegedly involves kickbacks to top Malaysian officials, may shed light on the mystery surrounding the death of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu.
Paris-based lawyer William Bourdon, who was in Penang on Thrursday, said the probe would probably reveal relevant details related to Altantuya’s involvement in the purchase of the two French submarines by Malaysia.
Police investigations have already revealed that Altantuya and Abdul Razak Baginda, a close confidante of Prime Minister Najib Razak, had been beneficiaries of travel expenses paid by an obscure French company in Malta.
Bourdon, who was detained by immigration officers at the KL International Airport upon arriving from Penang about 10.30am yesterday, said he had kept abreast of Altantuya’s case since her death in 2006, and had noted that her murder trial had been overly dramatised.
Speaking to Malaysiakini in exclusive interview just hours before he was detained by immigration authorities, who boarded his plane at KLIA this morning, Bourdon said: “The manner in which the trial was conducted provoked many questions; a lot of obscurity remains regarding her murder.”
The trial ended in 2008 with two of the bodyguards of Najib, who was then deputy prime minister and defence minister, being convicted of her murder.
The duo are currently appealing their death sentence. Abdul Razak, who had been charged with abetting the duo, was acquitted without being called to make his defence.
Observers had remarked that despite the high-profile trial, two pertinent questions surrounding Altantuya’s murder were yet to be answered: why was she killed and who ordered her killing?
Najib, who as defence minister was in charge of the mega-Scorpene submarine deal, has denied any involvement in the murder.
On the Suaram case which the lawyer filed in Paris last year, Bourdon said he was confident he would be able to access the related documents and files very soon.
These expose is expected to bring to book high-profile Malaysian officials who are said to have received kickbacks amounting to millions of ringgit from the submarine deal.
Bourdon said the case was still under the investigation phase, where the police still interrogating witnesses.
On behalf of human rights group Suaram, Bourdon has applied to the public prosecutor to allow the Kuala Lumpur-based NGO to be admitted as a civil plaintiff in court.
If accepted, he said, an investigative judge will be appointed to handle the case.
“The investigative judge is the only real independent institution to deal with sensitive cases such as corruption,” he said.
No real democracy if judges not independent
On whether the independence of the judiciary could be guaranteed, Bourdon said this would be assured through the appointment of the investigative judge by an independent body.
“The judges in such cases answer to no political hierarchy, so there is at least a legal guarantee that ensures their independence,” he added.
“There can be no real democracy if judges are not independent.”
However, Bourdon does not discount the fact that in sensitive cases like corruption, there could be a possibility of the public prosecutor being approached to keep the truth from coming out.
“Especially if the truth is dangerous (to the people who approach the prosecutors),” he said.
“Which is why we need an independent media to balance between state power and these institutions,” he said, adding quickly that he was aware of the current state of the media in Malaysia.
Although Bourdon – who was accompanied by his lawyer wife, Lia Foriester, in his trip to Malaysia – is confident that the case is making headway in France, he is still careful not to be presumptuous on whether Suaram would eventually be accepted as a civil plaintiff.
This is due to the circumstances in any case involving corruption, which can be very challenging anywhere in the world, he said.
The public prosecutor could well deny Suaram the right to appear as civil plaintiff and if this happened, Bourdon said, he would definitely file an appeal.
Even if Suaram failed to make it to court, there would be the opportunity for its lawyers to access the relevant documents and files in the case.
“In my opinion, if Suaram is not accepted as a civil plaintiff, it would seem like a breach of international legal standards and law,” Bourdon added.
A Plan B in place
In any case, he said, he has a Plan B, about which he would not speak now. “All I can say is that we will move forward.”
Bourdon himself has been involved in battles to make government leaders accountable for their corrupt ways and in issues of human rights abuse over the past 30 years.
He set up Sherpa, a non-profit organisation, with other lawyers in Paris in 2005 to work on international justice cases.
He has conducted about 50 monitoring missions in several countries.
During the course of his work in various countries, the authorities have threatened him with deportation – but never went through with it.
They did, however, monitor his movements and he felt he was ‘in permanent control by the secret police’, for example, in Tunisia and Turkey, from 1995-2005.
In all these years, his team has not only registered defeat but there have also been several victories.
For example, in a forced labour case between France and Thailand, his intervention helped secure a better life and working conditions for his clients.
Bourdon said he has realised that these days citizens, from Malaysia to Tunisia, were no longer tolerant of corruption.
“In the last 20 years, there has been a sense of resignation where corrupt practices are in a way ‘acceptable’ but not any more,” he said.
“What has become important is democracy and rule of law, and corruption involving government leaders can break the confidence of public votes,” he added.
|The proposed location of the so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, a former Burlington Coat Factory building located two blocks north from Ground Zero [EPA]
During the 2010 midterm election campaign, virtually every hard-charging candidate on the far right took a moment to trash a Muslim, a mosque, or Islamic pieties.
In the wake of those elections, with 85 new Republican members of the House of Representatives and a surging Tea Party movement, the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric as a means of rousing voters and alarming the general electorate have gone largely unchallenged. It has become an article of faith that a successful 2010 candidate on the right should treat Islam with revulsion, drawing a line between America the Beautiful and the destructive impurities of Islamic cultists and radicals.
“Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” wrote journalist Michael Scott Moore in the wake of the 2010 election. His assumption was shared by many then and is still widely accepted today.
But as the 2012 campaign ramps up along with the anti-Muslim rhetoric machine, a look back at 2010 turns out to offer quite an unexpected story about the American electorate. In fact, with rare exceptions, “Islam-bashing” proved a strikingly poor campaign tactic. In state after state, candidates who focused on illusory Muslim “threats”, tied ordinary American Muslims to terrorists and radicals, or characterized mosques as halls of triumph (and prayer in them as indoctrination) went down to defeat.
Far from winning votes, it could be argued that “Muslim-bashing” alienated large swaths of the electorate – even as it hardened an already hard core on the right.
The fact is that many of the loudest anti-Muslim candidates lost, and for a number of those who won, victory came by the smallest of margins, often driven by forces that went well beyond anti-Muslim rhetoric. A careful look at 2010 election results indicates that Islamophobic talking points can gain attention for a candidate, but the constituency that can be swayed by them remains limited, although not insignificant.
Demogoguing the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’
It’s worth taking a closer look. In 2010, anti-Muslim rhetoric rode in with the emergence that July of a “mosque” controversy in lower Manhattan. New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, facing indifference to his candidacy in the primary race, took up what right-wing anti-Muslim bloggers had dubbed “the Ground Zero Mosque”, although the planned cultural centre in question would not have been a mosque and was not at Ground Zero.
With a handy alternate reality already sketched out for him, Lazio demanded that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, then state attourney general, “investigate” the mosque. He implied as well that its leaders had ties to Hamas and that the building, when built, would somehow represent a threat to the “personal security and safety” of city residents.
A fog of acrid rhetoric subsequently enshrouded the campaign – from Lazio and from his Tea Party-backed opponent, Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman. Paladino beat the hapless Lazio in the primary and was then handily dispatched by Cuomo in the general election. Cuomo had not joined the Muslim bashing, but by the end of the race, dozens of major political figures and potential Republican presidential candidates – including Newt Gingrich, TimPawlenty, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry – had denounced the loathsome Ground Zero Mosque and sometimes the whole of Islam. What began as a local issue had by then become a national political litmus test and a wormhole to the country’s darkest sentiments.
But the hard reality of election results demonstrated one incontrovertible fact. Both Lazio and Paladino, heavily invested in portraying Muslims as somehow different from everyone else, went down to dismal defeats. Nor could these trouncings simply be passed off as what happens in a relatively liberal northeastern state. Even in supposed hotbeds of anti-Muslim sentiment, xenophobic rhetoric and fear-mongering repeatedly proved weak reeds for candidates.
Take Tennessee, a state in the throes of its own mosque-building controversy (in Murfreesboro) at the height of the 2010 campaign. There, gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey couldn’t slam Islam often enough. Despite raising $2.7m, however, he went down to defeat in the Republican primary, attracting only 22 per cent of the vote. During the campaign, Republican victor Bill Haslam, now governor, simply stated that decisions about mosques and religious construction projects should be governed by local zoning ordinances and the Constitution.
In another 2010 Tennessee race, Lou Ann Zelenik, a Tennessee Republican congressional candidate and Tea Party activist, denounced the Murfreesboro mosque plans relentlessly. Zelenik ran her campaign like an unreconstructed Indian fighter, with Muslims standing in as opponents in a frontier war. As she typically put the matter, “Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilisation and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them”.
It didn’t work. Zelenik, too, was defeated, attracting 30 per cent of the vote in a three-way primary race; the winner, state senator Diane Black, edged her out with 31 per cent. Black declined to denounce the Murfreesboro mosque project and went on to win the general election.
Little electoral success for Islamophobes
The impotency of anti-Muslim rhetoric was not some isolated local phenomenon. Consider this: in the 2010 election cycle, anti-Muslim Senate candidate Sharron Angle was defeated in Nevada, and the similarly inclined Jeff Greene lost his Senate bid in Florida. A slew of congressional candidates who engaged in anti-Muslim rants or crassly sought to exploit the Ground Zero Mosque controversy also went down, including Francis X. Becker, Jr., in New York, KevinCalvey in Oklahoma, Dan Fanelli and Ronald McNeil in Florida, Ilario Pantano in North Carolina, Spike Maynard in West Virginia, and Dr. Marvin Scott in Indiana.
Not all candidates bad-mouthing Muslims failed, of course. Renee Ellmers, a nurse running in North Carolina’s Second District, won her race by about 1,500 votes after airing an incendiary television spot that likened the lower Manhattan cultural center to a “victory mosque” and conflated Islam with terrorism. But Ellmers’ main campaign talking point was the abomination of health-care reform. That “victory mosque” was only a bauble-like embellishment, a dazzling attention-grabber.
Similarly, Republican Rick Scott, running for governor in Florida, featured a deceptive television ad that referred to the New York project as “Obama’s mosque” and, like Ellmers’ ad, seamlessly fused Islam, terrorism, and murder. Tea Party favourite Scott, however, had a slight advantage in gaining a victory margin of about one percentage point over Democrat Alex Sink: he poured a staggering $73m of his own money into the race in which he largely painted Obama as an anti-business incompetent.
Despite lavishing more personal cash on the race than any candidate in Florida history, Scott won by less than 100,000 votes, falling short of 50 per cent of the total. He was only the second Florida governor to take office without the backing of a majority of the electorate.
If some virulent political rhetoric was credited with bringing victory to candidates at the time, its effect in retrospect looks more questionable and less impressive. Take the victorious campaign of Republican Allen West in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. A Tea Party favorite quick to exploit anti-Muslim fears, he was also a veteran of the Iraq War and had been fined by the Army for the beating and threatened killing of an Iraqi prisoner.
During the campaign, he made numerous statements linking Islam with terrorism and weighed in loudly on the proposed Manhattan Islamic center more than 1,000 miles away. In an open letter to his opponent, two-term incumbent Democrat Ron Klein, he noted that “the mosque symbolizes a clear victory in the eyes of those who brought down the twin towers”. Klein then caved and joined West in opposing the cultural center, claiming that Ground Zero should only be “a living memorial where all Americans can honor those who were killed on September 11, 2001″.
In the election, West reversed the results of his 2008 race against Klein and ever since, his victory has been seen as one of the triumphs of anti-Muslim trash talking. A look at the numbers, however, tells a slightly different story. For one thing, West, too, had a significant financial advantage. He had already raised more than $4m when the campaign began, more than four times his total in 2008 and twice as much as Klein. Much of West’s funding came from out-of-state donors and conservative PACs.
For all that money, however, West won the election by not “losing” as many votes as Klein did (when compared to 2008). In 2010, West won with about 115,000 votes to Klein’s 97,000; in 2008, when Klein had the funding advantage and a presidential year electorate at his back, he beat West, 169,000 to 140,000.
Off-year elections normally mean lower turnouts, which clearly worked to West’s advantage. His victory total amounted to about a third of the 2008 total vote. And there’s the point. The motivated, far-right base of the Republican Party/Tea Party can, at best, pull in about a quarter to a third of the larger electorate. In addition, West became the Definer: He blocked out the issues, agitated his base, and got people to the polls. Klein ceded the terms of the debate to him and failed to galvanize support.
Did anti-Muslim rhetoric help West? Probably. Can it work in a presidential election year when substantial turnout ensures that the base won’t rule? Unlikely.
2012 hopefuls turn up anti-Muslim vitriol
Nevertheless, candidates on the right are already ramping up the rhetoric for 2012. Herman Cain, the pizza king who would be president, is but one obvious example. He says he may not know much, but one thing he knows for sure: when he’s elected, no Muslims will find their way into his administration.
As he put it in an interview with Christianity Today, “Based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them”. Cain told the website Think Progress that he’d brook no Muslim cabinet members or judges because “there is this creeping attempt, there’s this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government”.
Before a national television audience at a recent Republican presidential debate, however, Cain proceeded to say that he really hadn’t said what he had, in fact, said. This is called a “clarification”. What he meant, Cain reassuredtelevision viewers, was that he would only bar disloyal Muslims, the ones “trying to kill us”.
It almost seems as if candidates defeated in 2010 when using over-the-top anti-Muslim rhetoric are expecting a different outcome in 2012. Lawyer Lynne Torgerson in Minnesota is a fine example of this syndrome. In 2010, she decided to take on Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, pounding him relentlessly for his supposed “ties” to “radical Islamism”.
“And what do I know of Islam?” she wrote on the “issues” page of her 2010 campaign website. ”Well, I know of 911.” Alas for Torgerson, the strategy didn’t work out so well. She was crushed by Ellison, garnering only 3 per cent of the vote. Now, Torgerson is back, her message even more extreme. Ellison is no longer simply tied to “radical Islamism”, whatever that may be; he has apparently used his time in Congress to become a “radical Islamist” pushing, she claims, nothing less than the adoption of “Islamic Sharia law”.
Sharia law is the new Ground Zero Mosque
Sharia has become the Ground Zero Mosque of 2012, with about 20 states considering laws that would ban its use and candidates shrilly denouncing it – a convenient way, presumably, to keep harping on nonexistent, yet anxiety-producing, “threats”. Since no one knows what you’re talking about when you decry Sharia, it’s even easier than usual to say anything, no matter how bizarre or duplicitous.
So be prepared to hear a lot about “Sharia” between now and November 2012.
Going forward a few things seem clear. For one, the Islamophobic machinery fuelled by large right-wing foundations, PACs, individuals, and business interests will continue to elaborate a virtual reality in which Muslim and Islamic “threats” lurk around every American corner and behind every door. It is important to realize that once you’ve entered this political landscape, taking down anti-Muslim “facts” with reality is a fool’s errand. This is a realm akin to a video game, where such “facts” are dispatched only to rise again like so many zombies. In the world of Resident Evil, truth hardly matters.
But bear in mind that, as the 2010 election results made clear, that particular virtual reality is embraced by a distinct and limited American minority. For at least 70 per cent of the electorate, when it comes to anti-Muslim slander, facts do matter. Failure to challenge the bogus rhetoric only allows the loudest, most reckless political gamer to set the agenda, as Ron Klein discovered to his dismay in Florida.
Attacks on the deadly threat of Sharia, the puffing up of Muslim plots against America, and the smearing of candidates who decline to make blanket denunciations of “Islamism” are sure to emerge loudly in the 2012 election season. Such rhetoric, however, may prove even less potent at the polls than the relatively impotent 2010 version, even if this reality has gone largely unnoticed by the national media.
For those who live outside the precincts where right-wing virtual reality reigns supreme, facts are apparently having an impact. The vast majority of the electorate seems to be viewing anti-Muslim alarms as a distraction from other, far more pressing problems: real problems.