Suspected Scorpene Submarine data thief eludes international manhunt
An international manhunt by France has failed to find the former French naval officer suspected of stealing 22,400 confidential documents on submarine capability from French shipbuilder DCNS that ended up in Australia.
The 68-year-old French national and naval expert is understood to have been on the run since The Australian revealed news of the massive data leak in August.
The man’s name and his details were found in the leaked data, with French authorities believing the former DCNS subcontractor might have stolen the documents from a DCNS office in France in 2011.
The leaked data was then posted from Singapore in 2013 to a former Australian submariner, Rex Patrick, who disclosed its existence to The Australian in August this year. The disclosure sparked an investigation in France and India about how such sensitive data was taken from DCNS, the company that will design Australia’s $50 billion future submarines.
News of the leaked data prompted the Turnbull government to tighten information security surrounding Australia’s future submarine project to ensure a similar leak did not occur here.
However, sources have told The Australian the French investigation has stalled because the chief suspect cannot be found.
The Paris prosecutor’s office is conducting an investigation for breach of trust, receiving stolen goods and complicity in relation to the leaked data, which comprised 22,400 documents detailing the highly sensitive combat capabilities of the DCNS-designed Scorpene-class submarines built for the Indian navy. The leak of the documents, marked “Restricted Scorpene India”, has sparked an investigation by the Indian navy to determine whether the leak has compromised the security of its six new Scorpene submarines.
DCNS declined to answer specific questions about the investigation. “DCNS has filed a criminal complaint against unknown persons on the grounds of, notably, breach of trust before the Paris Public Prosecutor,” a company spokesman said. “Given the French government is undertaking an investigation, it would be inappropriate to provide any further comment.”
The Australian understands that the suspect in the leak is a French naval engineer who served in the navy in French Polynesia in the early 1970s before working in the 80s and 90s with defence giant Thomson-CSF (now Thales). He was head of a logistics team for Thales in the early 2000s for an export frigate program before working as a subcontractor for DCNS in submarine combat systems.
In about 2011 the Scorpene data is believed to have been removed without authorisation from DCNS and then taken to Malaysia on a data disk.
The suspect is thought to have been in possession of the data stick until early 2013 when he is believed to have lost control of it after he had a dispute with his employer in Malaysia and was locked out of the building with the data still on a computer inside the premises.
The company then posted the data stick from Singapore to Mr Patrick in Australia, apparently believing it contained routine naval training data rather than highly sensitive leaked data on French-designed submarines.
Mr Patrick approached Defence in 2013 to inform it of the existence of the data but Defence failed to follow up Mr Patrick’s tip-off, prompting him to leak the story to The Australian this year in the hope that it would lead to better security for the Australian future submarine project