November 18, 2011
The 3rd Submarine for Malaysia: Agosta-Class Ouessant (S623)?
by Mariam Mokhtar@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com
How much did the Malaysian taxpayer pay for the Agosta-class submarine? When was it purchased and when was it decided to hand it over to Ali Rustam?
When the Malaysian government signed a deal in 2002 with the joint naval builders, DCNS of France and Navantia of Spain, to commission two Scorpene-class submarines, it did not realise that the purchases would create an international scandal.
The controversy surrounding the Scorpene-class submarines refuses to sink into oblivion. Now, attention is focused on the little known Agosta-class submarine, the Ouessant (S623), which was completed in 1978 and served the French navy until she was decommissioned in 2001. It appears Malaysia also owns the Ouessant.
A few readers may recall very sketchy details about a third submarine which was used to train the Malaysian submariners. That was the Agosta-class Ouessant, which the “Asia Sentinel” described in its reporting on the Scorpene scandal as a “retired submarine manufactured by a joint venture between DCN and Spanish company Agosta”.
Opposition politicians have bombarded UMNO with questions about the submarine deal but have been thwarted by unintelligent and conflicting answers from the Defence Ministry. Now, the curious case of the Agosta-class submarine, the Ouessant (S623), is only just surfacing.
“The Asia Sentinel” stated in April 2010 that this third ageing submarine was leased for training purposes. However, we are now told that the Malaysian Navy has bought the Ouessant, the Agosta-class submarine. If so when? And, for how much?
Why has there been no mention of the Ouessant until we hear that it will be made into part of Malacca’s maritime museum? Gaining ownership of the Ouessant is akin to learning to drive in a 20-year-old Proton Saga, then buying the car for RM200,000 only to use it as a reban ayam (chicken coop).
So, was the Agosta thrown in as as sweetener for the purchase of the two Scorpenes? Did the French try to appease the Malaysians because one of the Scorpenes was faulty?
Malaysians first read of the Agosta-class submarine in a rather obscure report by Bernama on April 22, 2011, when the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) chief Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar said that the Ouessant was unsuitable for naval operations but would be converted into a museum piece to show the progress made by the RMN.
Abdul Aziz said, “We are expecting its arrival in August. There will be a signing ceremony between the Defence Ministry Secretary-General and the French side before it is handed over to us.
“It is a second-hand submarine we bought for training RMN personnel. Now that its services are no longer needed, it will be brought to the Lumut naval base in August”.
RM12.6 million museum project
Abdul Aziz explained that the Ouessant had been used as a training submarine for the submariners of the two Scorpene-class submarines KD Tunku Abdul Rahman and KD Tun Abdul Razak, which were commissioned in 2009 and 2010.
Then on the September 23, the Malaysian Ambassador to France, Abdul Aziz Zainal and the Director of International Development in the French Defence Ministry Yves Blanc, signed the documents for the transfer of ownership of the Ouessant.
The submarine was then transported on a floating dock to Malaysia in early October in an operation organised by Felda Transport. After being at sea for 32 days, the Ouessant arrived off the Malacca coast.
Malacca Chief Minister Mohd Ali Rustam said that the submarine would be transported to the exhibition site at the 1Malaysia Square, Klebang.
During the site visit, Ali explained that the Malacca government had been given custody of the French-made Ouessant. The submarine museum project, he said, had cost RM12.6 million and would attract more tourists to Malacca.
Earlier, Abdul Aziz denied that Malaysia’s first two Scorpenes, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman and KD Tun Abdul Razak, were not operational and he affirmed that they were “in the open sea and operating smoothly”.
He also rubbished claims that kickbacks were involved in the purchase of the two Scorpenes, and by way of assurance, stated that neither the European Union nor the RMN condoned such acts.
Is Abdul Aziz really that naïve?The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) convention states that it is a crime to bribe foreign public officials in international business transactions.
The OECD convention may have been signed by countries in Europe, but it didn’t prevent former premier Tony Blair from stopping investigations into allegations of kickbacks by the arms company BAE and the Saudi Royal family, under the guise of national interest and security for Britain.
There are numerous questions about the purchase of Malaysia’s Scorpene submarines.Why did the Malaysian government omit to procure the weapons systems for the two submarines and why did they purchase submarines that were not fitted out for use in tropical waters?
The empty shells that were purchased then had to be equipped with torpedoes, sea-to-surface missiles and mines, all of which cost the taxpayers several millions more ringgit. Perimekar Sdn Bhd, which received the kickback in the Scorpene deal, is intricately linked with Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak through his friend Razak Baginda and Baginda’s wife, Mazalinda.
Baginda and his wife are co-owners of Perimekar and it is alleged that the Scorpene deal involved kickbacks, money-laundering and a series of unexplained “co-ordination services”.
What is the actual cost of the submarines?
What does the Malaysian government mean by “co-ordination services”, “supporting the contract” and for “housing the crew” of the submarines in France? A sum of 114 million euro was paid to Perimekar for these services.
Why did the Malaysian officials forget about the maintenance contract for the Scorpenes? Why did they also forget to buy weapons for the Scorpenes, one of which was reported to have diving problems?
What is the actual cost of the Scorpene submarines? And how much did the Malaysian taxpayers pay for the Ouessant? When was it purchased and when was it decided to hand it over to Ali Rustam?
One hopes that Malaysia will not end up with three submarines in the Malacca maritime museum. We would be the envy of the world with three submarines as exhibits. Tourists will flock to Malacca to view them. Probably.
Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.