Malaysia’s got submarines. Two of ’em, in fact, and they were both obtained in a deal that can be traced back to 2002 involving a French defence group, Thales, and our ex-PM, Najib Razak. Cool, nothing to see here. Totally legit business transaction, we could probably use a sub or two. Except…
Some shenanigans were afoot, and apparently, Razak Baginda, an associate of Najib’s, received a kickback of more than 114 million euros (over RM500 million in today’s money) as “consulting work” and the money was reportedly funneled to Najib, who was our Defence Minister at the time. The investigations into the matter were closed earlier this year, and nine individuals have been charged by the French courts since then.
At this point, you might be thinking, ‘Well, the company’s in France, it’s not like they’re super involved with OUR country’s armed forces, right?’ Boy oh boy do we have news for you…
Thales has been operating in Malaysia for over 40 years
Yep, they’ve been here since 1981, and in 1995, Thales joined hands with Sapura, a local conglomerate, to form Sapura Thales Electronic (STE) Sdn Bhd. Being in the defence industry, they’ve supplied our Armed Forces with… y’know, defence stuff, for example:
- Royal Malaysian Navy – Mostly sensors and radar systems on existing ships, like the Navy’s Second Generation Patrol Vessel Littoral Combat Ships
- Royal Malaysian Air Force – Electronic systems on the Air Force’s fighter aircrafts
- Malaysian Army – Thales is a vendor for DEFTECH, who sold the Army 257 armored vehicles in 2011, and 12 “mini tanks” in 2014.
And then there’s STE’s Call of Duty-esque future soldier program (which we’ve written about more extensively here) where it’s almost as sci-fi as it sounds – experimental platoons of the 12th Royal Malay Regiment (Mechanised) and 4th Mechanised Brigade were equipped with cutting-edge protection gear, spec ops weapons and portable communications systems. The program was almost scrapped in 2016 cuz it didn’t manage to secure funding from the government, but a local IT company, OpenApps Sdn Bhd, swooped in to the rescue and the program has subsequently been “going smoothly”.
That’s not all: even though their main ball game is in the defence sector, they’re kinda like Malaysia’s Stark Industries where they’ve got their hands in multiple cookie jars – even ones that you probably didn’t expect. Y’all have them to thank for:
- The in-flight entertainment system on Malaysian Airlines’ flights
- The control systems for the Kelana Jaya & Ampang LRT lines
- Urban train & rail related courses in multiple local universities
Okay, that should paint a good enough picture of how involved STE is in the Malaysian ecosystem, but given Thales’s troubles with bribery on French soil, will history repeat itself? To find out, we bought STE’s company profile from SSM to see if any of their directors look sus, and it turns out…
None of STE’s directors are directly linked to Najib
Sorry ladies and gents, nothing saucy to see here. While Thales has been charged in French Courts, and Sapura Energy is busy trying to get a bailout from the government, the directors of STE don’t seem to have any ties to Bossku, as far as we can tell.
A few of them are holding high positions in other companies, like Questran and the Scomi Group, but one person being a director of multiple companies isn’t unusual or against the law. So, yeah, from our research, STE seems to be doing everything above board.
To close out the article, Francois-Xavier Boutes, one of the directors and CEO of STE said in an interview with New Straits Times last year that the company is going to be more and more entrenched in the local security scene, especially cybersecurity:
The push towards digital transformation is strong for many governments, including Malaysia. Thales, as a leading technology player, aligns with that ambition… For Thales, cybersecurity is inherent in the design of a solution. When we speak with customers, we are mindful that mission-critical systems need to be as resilient to cyber-attacks.
We guess only time will tell whether STE will maintain it’s controversy-free status, or they’ll surprise us with some skeletons falling out of their armored vehicles, cuz it’s not like that’s never happened before.