More than meets the eye in Malaysian jet engines theft

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6: In a bid to quell mounting public indignation at home and growing suspicion abroad that it may be involved in shady military deals with Iran, the Malaysian government on Wednesday charged two men over the theft of two jet engines from an air base in its capital city.

By Wong Choon Mei, Harakahdaily

N Tharmendran, a 42-year old sergeant in the Royal Malaysian Air Force was charged for stealing the engines, while 38-year old company director Rajandran Prasad Kusy was charged for selling them.

A bail of RM150,000 was slapped on each man and their cases will be heard jointly on February 11.

International joke

But this is unlikely to satisfy the public clamouring for a full-scale Royal Commission of Inquiry into what actually happened.

How could two General Electric J85-21A turbo jet engines worth RM100 million evaporate undetected from the air base in 2007, the theft discovered only in 2008, and yet just two men – both obscure and with little influence – were involved?

“It is definitely not enough. Too many questions remain unanswered and added together they stink of a major cover up,” Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad (PIC), head of PAS international bureau, told Harakahdaily.

“If Prime Minister Najib Razak does not take this seriously, we may end up becoming a laughing stock internationally. Already, speculation is high in the diplomatic circles that much more was involved, that Malaysia may have sold the engines to Iran and is now trying to pass off the incident as a theft so as not to anger the United States.

“There is even talk of a back-to-back deal with US. If the Malaysian government was not involved in any wrongdoing, then it should show that it is serious about getting to the bottom of this. Arresting one sergeant and one businessman is not enough.”

Corruption hitting the roof

But apart from the possible links to international syndicates, Malaysians are also aghast at the bare-faced corruption involved.

Even if it was a completely domestic theft, where were the internal controls, checks and balances? Who were sleeping on the job, why shouldn’t they be sacked? Who is to reimburse taxpayers their RM100 million?

“Corruption has become so rampant in Malaysia that this RM100 million theft is regarded as peanuts in comparison with the multi-billion ringgit scandals such as the PKFZ. But we must not allow ourselves to become blasé,” PKR leader Ronnie Klassen told Harakahdaily.

“We must continue to demand the truth and the only credible way out is a Royal Commission of Inquiry. And most importantly, this RCI must consist of the most credible, the most respected and independent of professionals.”

In 2009, Malaysia fell nine spots to 56th place in Transparency International’s renowned corruption index.

Conflicting statements

Indeed, the way investigations have been carried out leaves much to be desired, with the various government agencies issuing contradicting statements.

For example, according to Attorney-General Gani Patail, the jet engines which power F-5Es were now in Uruguay. But police had previously said it went through a Middle East nation to Argentina. Police also earlier said four men, of whom three were rank-and-file airmen, were involved in the theft. .

The RMAF – at the centre of the storm – has been forced to issue a denial after news leaked that a brigadier-general and 40 others had been sacked for incompetence over the matter.

Meanwhile, the sergeant was charged under section 380 and section 109 of the Penal Code, while the company director under section 414. The engines went missing whilst being taken for routine maintenance from the 12th Squadron in Butterworth to an RMAF base in Kuala Lumpur. The theft came to light only in May 2008 and a police report was lodged three months later.