Maltese company implicated in French anti-corruption sting

Opposition MP Evarist Bartolo highlights details of ongoing international criminal investigation into a complex web of murder, intrigue and scandal in which a Maltese company is understood to be involved.

Labour MP Evarist Bartolo revealed details of a Maltese company implicated in French anti-corruption sting
Labour MP Evarist Bartolo revealed details of a Maltese company implicated in French anti-corruption sting

Yesterday's Parliamentary discussion took an unexpected turn, when Opposition MP Evarist Bartolo used his adjournment speech to highlight details of an ongoing international criminal investigation into a complex web of murder, intrigue and scandal in which a Maltese company is understood to be involved.

According to the investigation cited by Bartolo in parliament yesterday, a French-owned, Malta-based financial consultancy services called 'Gifen' is involved in a money-laundering operation which is in turn connected to: a €1 billion contract for the purchase of military submarines from France by the Malaysian government in 2002; allegations of a €114 million 'commission' that changed hands during negotiations between French and Malaysian officials; and - most sinister of all - the kidnapping and violent murder of a Mongolian modelling student in Malaysia in 2006.

In parliament yesterday, Bartolo revealed how this complex bribery/murder scenario, that has caused scandal in both Malaysia and France over the past decade, has now also managed to finds its way here to Malta: with a Maltese company currently being investigated by French officials over allegations of laundering part of the money involved in this transaction..

The former Education Minister revealed how French inquiring magistrates have now ordered the police to initiate an international investigation into a number of companies based in France, Luxembourg and Hong Kong - including one in Malta - as part of a global anti-corruption sting.

The story opens in June 2002, when, after three years of negotiations, the Malaysian government concluded a €1 billion deal with French company Armaris (now DCNS) and Spanish naval shipbuilder Izar (now Navantia) for the purchase of 2 SSK Scorpene submarines, as well as associated support and training.

The contract was signed by Malyasia's minister of defense (now prime minister) Najib Razak, and allegations quickly followed that DCSN had previously been sold confidential information relating to their bid by Malaysian companies understood to be close to Razak.

One company named in the initial rumours was Perimekar, owned by Razak's close associate, the prominent Malaysian businessman Abdul Razak Baginda.

But it was with the 2006 murder of 28-year-old Mongolian modelling student Altantuya Shaaribuu that suspicions of high-level corruption started to gain ground in earnest.

In March 2009, French Journalist Arnaud Dubus published a report in France's Liberation, citing hundreds of confidential documents, which suggested a connection between the mysterious murder of the student-model, and a 'commission' of around €114 million paid to Perimekar in connection with the Scorpene submarine deal.

The motive for Altantuya's death was reportedly that she had claimed a €500,000 share of the "commission" paid to Baginda (who appears to have also been her lover) for the purchase of the submarines... and then threatened to reveal all that she knew about this case if her demand was not met.

According to documents made public by French newspaper 'Liberation', Altantuya had been murdered on the orders of Abdul Razak Baginda, who was later acquitted on all charges by a Malaysian court.

However, Prime Minister Razak himself has now been implicated in the associated bribery deal, and Dubus' report includes details of text messages he had reportedly sent Baginda, which in turn strongly imply a cover-up and interference with police investigations.

The kidnapping itself was carried out in broad daylight in front of Baginda's house in the presence of eye-witnesses. And in a detail that could easily have emerged from a James Bond movie, the perpetrators were later identified only because the taxi-driver who had been hired by Altantuya for the day, reported the kidnapper's car licence plate to the police... officially as part of a complaint that he had not been paid for his services.

Police investigations traced the vehicle to Malaysian Special Branch police, causing embarrassment to the government, and awakening curiosity among the local press.

But while the Malaysia investigations have apparently stalled, French investigators soon took an interest in a case which appears (if allegations are true) to also point fingers at one of France's top names in the shipbuilding industry.

French investigating magistrates are now looking into a Hong Kong-based company called Terasasi (Hong Kong) Ltd. Abdul Razak Baginda is listed as one of the two directors of the company. The other director is his father, Abdul Malim Baginda.

Where does Malta come in?

In parliament yesterday, Evarist Bartolo revealed that among the several companies worldwide currently investigated by French authorities in connection with this case is Gifen: a Malta-based company founded in 2001 by Frenchman Jean-Marie Bouvin, who has long been associated with the sale of military and defence equipment to countries such as Malaysia, Pakistan and Taiwan.

On paper, Gifen offers consultancy services, and Bartolo said in parliament yesterday that its sole director is listed as David Grech, with Noelle Grima as company secretary until March 2011, when Edward Attard Montalto also joined the firm.

Its auditors are Attard Giglio and Co.

Bartolo noted also that Gifen's most active years were between 2001 and 2004, with an income of almost €1.5 million, while its registered expenses took the form of 'consultancy services' and 'travelling expenses'.

Bartolo added that French investigators are currently looking into whether Gifen was used "to facilitate the movement of money involved in this contract", as well as to pay for travelling expenses incurred by Baginda and Altantuya. Other companies allegedly used for similar purposes are Eurolux (based in Luxembourg) and Technomar, based in Belgium.

Bartolo further alleged that Bouvin, who had founded Gifen in 2001, was very well-connected with the French secret services, and close ties both with (then) President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister de Villepin.

According to the Opposition MP, Bouvin would pay commissions, through a company called Heine, in order to secure successful bids for public contracts.

After France signed the UN Convention Against Corruption, Bouvin allegedly began to operate though different channels - setting up companies in Ireland, Switzerland, Mauritius, the Isle of Man... and Malta.

Bartolo added that responsibility to regulate such operations in Malta fell to the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit and the Malta Financial Services Authority, and that the reputation of Malta as a centre for financial services was at stake. He reminded the Houseof a report by the Council of Europe's Committee on Money Laundering, which had observed that Malya's legislation is good, but enforcement is lacking.


When you have a government which is scared of tackling corruption by refusing to implement the Whistleblower Act. And is placed BEHIND BOTSWANA in the list of the perception of corruption, such shady companies are attracted to carry on their illegal activities !
Lawrence Covin
@Tarxieniz1: Min qal li tort tal-Gvern? Mela kull ma tghid l-Opposizzjoni huwa attakk fuq il-Gvern? Kemm int sensitiv, gbin, jaqaw? Kun af li l-industrija tal-financial services (li hi success finanzjarju) hafna drabi tahsel il-flejjes ta kriminali internazzjonali jew tghin persuni biex ifottu s-sistema tat-taxxa ta' pajjizhom; ahna noghorku jdejna, imma pajjizi ohra inkazzati. Ghandna xi tlett ditti li jgixu bic-caqlieq ta' flus mahmuga. L-uniku tort li jista jkollu l-Gvern huwa li ma jsejjahx (almenu fid-dieher) lill-kapijiet ta' dawn id-ditti u jghidilhom: 'Isma, ma nqazzhuwiex! Osservaw certi limiti!' Peress li ma jaghmilx hekk, Gvernijiet ohra jakkuzaw lill-Malta -lili u lilek. Dak kollox, Tarxieniz1, siehbi. Jalla l-Gvern fragli tieghek ma jibqax bzonn difensuri bhalek kulljum, aktar.
Well, this is an interesting fairy tale. Trading fire-arms must be a lucrative business Smith and Wesson anyone? :)
Tarxieniz, il-gvern int semmejtu u hadd izjed. Evarist ghamel dmiru u gibed l-attenzjoni.
@ tarxieniz .......... Le it-tort ta' Pawlu Boffa.
Again! Flimkien Kollox Possibli.
Maureen Attard
U dan tort tal-gvern ukoll? Jekk hemm xi haga il-gvern m'ghandux ghax jibza jinveztiga. Alla jkbierek kollox il-gvern jehel, kemm qedghin sewwa wkoll....
I admire this gentleman's zeal and investigative powers. But when will the honourable Bartolo understand that financial services centres serve, in the main, for just these grey purposes. Above board and arms-length transactions do not require these facilities. No amount of policing would cope with all that goes on, let alone the very limited resources of the FIAU.
Tal-biza'. PROSIT li wassaltilna