A highly-classified document - the Royal Malaysian Navy's evaluation of the Scorpene-class submarines to be purchased by the government - were allegedly "bought" by a French defence company.
French lawyer Joseph Breham, who is acting on behalf of human rights NGO Suaram, revealed that the company paid 36 million euro (RM142 million) to Terasasi (Hong Kong) Ltd, ostensibly for "commercial engineering" works.
Breham ( right ) said French investigative judges probing the case lodged by Suaram against Paris-owned shipmaker DCNS for alleged corruption inquired what those payments were for and demanded reports of financial transactions from the company.
"They (the inquiry judges) were given information thqat is already available in the Internet and newspapers, except for this one document," Breham told a press conference in Bangkok yesterday.
"It was a secret document by the Malaysian Navy - an evaluation for the order of the submarines, which is a highly confidential report," he told journalists at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.
Breham, who based his expose on the French prosecution papers, said the act of "selling" top secret papers to a foreign country such as this is considered treason.
In France, he stressed, it would be absolutely illegal to sell such reports as it could either be considered a breach of defence secrets or high treason.
"It's treason because you are selling to a competitor or a foreign country what you think about a specific weapon, and your plan on how to use this specific weapon," replied Breham, when asked by a journalist if it was legal for an individual to sell such reports.
"In France, if you release them (secret documents), you can be punished with up to 10 years in jail," said Breham, who is with Sherpa, a non-profit legal and human rights NGO based in Paris, which is representing Suaram in the legal action.
Najib can be arrested by Interpol
Hong Kong-based Terasasi had been accused of funnelling money through its accounts to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak as "commissions" for the sale of the submarines.
The submarines were purchased from the French company Thales International, also known as Thint Asia, in a deal inked in 2002 when Najib was deputy prime minister and defence minister.
Thales is an off-shoot of French defence giant DCN, which later changed its name to DCNS, a company facing legal charges filed by Suaram in 2010. The case recently opened for hearing in the French court.
Two Terasasi directors are Najib's close ally Abdul Razak Baginda and his father Abdul Malim Baginda.
In 2006, Razak, together with two of Najib's former bodyguards were charged with the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu, but the political analyst was acquitted without his defence being called.
Najib ( left ), who has refused to comment on the matter, has also denied ever being involved in the scandal, but Breham has reiterated that the PM cannot avoid testifying in a French court if he is either subpoenaed or issued with a warrant of arrest by Interpol.
Breham said it was possible that Thales decided to pay the money to obtain the classified documents so that it could better its bid for the project, and this meant "paying someone to commit an offence".
The other possibility, he added, is that the French company had paid the commission to channel money to ruling party Umno or to high-ranking individuals in Malaysia, as already revealed in French prosecution papers.
Breham said that this "demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt" that the French counterparts knew the money was illegal and should not be paid, and that it would go to top Malaysian officials.
He added that the money, whether legal or illegal, was paid to individuals "for no forseeable reasons" when it could have been put to better use.
"To put it blunt and clearly - if the money had not been paid to high-ranking officials, it could have been used to allow Malaysians to pay less taxes for the same services or to have much more services for the same amount of taxes," suggested Breham.
"The Malaysian taxpayers are the first casualties in this case," he added.
Selling nation's secrets a crime
Meanwhile, Subang parliamentarian R Sivarasa, who was at the Bangkok press conference, said the expose on the top secret document being sold to a foreign country could land a person in jail.
Sivarasa ( right ), who is also a lawyer, said anyone familiar with the Malaysian legal system knows that the country has the toughest official secrets legislation.
In terms of the broad scope of the law, he added, the breach of any official secret document or publication is punishable with a mandatory jail sentence.
"These documents - as mentioned by Breham - fall into the highest category of official secret documents as it has implications for the security of the country," said the PKR leader.
"Without any question, it is a criminal offence (to sell the documents to a foreign company). There have been people who went to jail for revealing far less innocous documents," he added.
Sivarasa was in Bangkok together with Suaram director Cynthia Gabriel, lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri and Breham to reveal 'damning details' surrounding the alleged Scorpene scandal.
The press conference was held in Bangkok as Breham was unable to get a proper visa to enter Malaysia.
His law partner, William Bourdon, was deported from Malaysia after he attended a fundraising dinner in Penang last year.
The Bangkok event, attended by foreign journalists and Malaysian embassy officials ( left ) - who left immediately after the function - was hosted by regional human rights NGO Forum-Asia.