Malaysian minister denies opposition claim his 'wife' stole money from warship project

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PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian opposition leader Rafizi Ramli on Monday (Aug 22) alleged that more than RM200 million (S$62 million) were siphoned out of a controversial warship project to companies linked to the second wife of a former deputy defence minister.

But the claim by the deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, was rebutted by former deputy minister Abdul Latiff Ahmad - who is today minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Special Functions).

Datuk Latiff said the woman named by Mr Rafizi, Ms Zainab Mohd Salleh, is not his wife.

He also said he was ready to be investigated by the authorities on the matter.

Mr Rafizi, in a statement, had made the dramatic claim that his investigations had revealed Ms Zainab's name, and alleged she had moved funds linked to the government's littoral combat ship (LCS) project to an offshore company with units incorporated in tax havens such as Malta and Labuan.

He said the companies involved were also named in documents contained in the so-called Paradise Papers, when in November 2017 the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed tens of thousands of confidential documents relating to offshore investments.

"My checks revealed that the the misappropriation of public funds from the LCS project has been going on for years and was well planned," Mr Rafizi said.

"The woman was also a shareholder in another offshore company incorporated in Malta which has shares in the Labuan-based unit," he added.

He further alleged that the company was a "dummy corporation", which resembled a real French company which produces spare parts.

But Mr Latiff said in a statement: "Referring to media reports on the LCS project probe, I would like to stress that Zainab Mohd Salleh is not my wife as stated in the stories.

"As a Cabinet minister, I'm prepared to give full cooperation should the authorities wish to initiate further investigations."

Mr Rafizi responded by describing Mr Latiff's two-line rebuttal as a "very weak denial", Malaysiakini online news reported.

"I had revealed names of companies, the exact amounts involved and the (purported) links with him.

"I also included the specific paragraph in the LCS internal probe that stated Zainab Mohd Salleh as his wife. He only denied that Zainab is his wife, citing viral media reports," said the opposition leader.

“Tomorrow, I will reveal specific documents that link Latiff with an individual named Zainab Mohd Salleh who is the owner of Alizes Marine,” he said.

“God willing, it will be clear why the internal probe report named Latiff as the spouse to Zainab Mohd Salleh,” he said, as reported by Malaysiakini.

The claims and counter-claim were in connection to the RM9 billion LCS project of the the Royal Malaysian Navy. The navy in 2011 commissioned the construction of the six small warships from local ship builder Boustead Naval Shipyard, without an open tender.

The vessels, to be used to patrol Malaysia's shoreline, were to have been delivered from 2019 onwards, but none are ready today.

Five of the ships should have been delivered by this month, with the sixth scheduled to be delivered next year.

The bipartisan Public Accounts Committee, which reports to Parliament, said on Aug 4 that the first LCS was only about 44 per cent complete today.

The PAC report also said that RM1.4 billion of government funds were used by the contractor for other purposes.

In total, RM6 billion of the RM9 billion contract had been paid out, raising public anger.

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