French lawyer in submarine probe deported from Malaysia

Malaysia has deported a French lawyer representing a human rights group in an inquiry into alleged corruption linked to Prime Minister Najib Razak, an activist said Saturday.

The Malaysian government has dismissed the graft allegations linked to a $1.1-billion submarine purchase in 2002, when Najib was defence minister, saying it is an opposition-backed attempt to smear his image.

“William Bourdon was deported late Friday to Paris on Malaysia Airlines carrier,” E. Nalini, programme manager of human rights group the Voice of the Malaysian People (Suaram), told AFP.

Bourdon, Suaram’s lawyer in France, was arrested early Friday by immigration officials when his plane arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on a domestic flight from nothern Penang island.

At the request of Suaram, French judicial officials opened an investigation in March 2010 into the sale of the two Scorpene submarines, which were made by French shipbuilder giant DCNS.

Malaysian officials said Bourdon was deported because he had violated his social visit visa by giving a speech at a dinner in Penang organised by Suaram on Thursday. The lawyer had visited Malaysia previously.

Suaran condemned the authorities’ action, claiming his arrest was unlawful.

“The arrest was unlawful and the government has been unfair to deport Bourdon,” Nalini said.

Suaram alleges DCNS paid a commission of €114 million ($160 million) to a company called Perimekar, which is linked to Abdul Razak Baginda, an associate of Najib’s.

Abdul Razak has been acquitted of charges of abetting the 2006 murder of his mistress, Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu, which the opposition has also been trying to link to Najib.

But Najib has denied any link to that case. The Malaysian government has also maintained that the submarine deal, brokered when Najib was defence minister, was free of graft and that Perimekar had not improperly benefited.

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Deadly French bus crash probe focusing on safety barriers

Investigators probing a deadly collision between a train and a school bus in the south of France were on Saturday looking at competing witness accounts to determine whether a safety barrier malfunction caused the disaster.

Deadly French bus crash probe focusing on safety barriers
Photo: Raymond Roig/AFP

Five children were killed and 20 people injured, several seriously, when an express train smashed into a school bus on Thursday evening at a level crossing in the village of Millas near the city of Perpignan.

As villagers came to terms with the tragedy, police continued to interview eyewitnesses.

“There are witnesses who say the barrier was closed and others who say it was open. We have not finished the investigation,” state prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said.

The bus driver, a 48-year-old woman who was severely hurt, insisted that the crossing barriers were open at the time of the collision, according to her employer.

“We saw each other last night in her hospital bed and she was perfectly lucid,” said a bus company official. “She told us she crossed (the train line) confidently and calmly, with the barriers open and crossing lights not flashing.”

Both the bus driver and the train driver were given toxicology tests that came back clean.

As a debate broke out about whether enough has been done to secure some 15,000 similar level crossings in France, national rail operator SNCF issued a statement declaring itself “shocked by the serious accusations” made against it “without any evidence”.

It said that the barriers had been “functioning normally”.

A schoolboy travelling on a bus behind the one hit told France 3 television that “the barriers were not closed and there were no flashing lights.”

The accident is the worst involving a school bus in France since 1987, when 53 people including 44 children were killed in a pile-up involving two coaches that were taking students to a summer camp.