US envoy did not believe Putrajaya’s jet engine explanation


By Shannon Teoh, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 — The United States ambassador here told his government early last year that embassy officials doubted the Najib administration’s explanation of two F-5 jet engines theft in late 2007, according to a diplomatic cable released by whistleblower site Wikileaks.

The document signed by Ambassador James Keith said that the embassy shared in the “incredulity” expressed by “a chorus of commentary in online media” at Putrajaya’s stand that “the thefts were carried out solely by two relatively low-level individuals and that higher-ups in the military and elsewhere were not involved.”

“We share some of the incredulity expressed in the blogosphere about the Government’s case and explanation of who was behind the engine thefts.

“In coordination with Washington, Post is continuing to push for a complete accounting of how the thefts occurred and the ultimate disposition of the engines, and to remind the GOM of the seriousness of the issue and need for remedial actions,” said the cable which was published on the Malaysia Today news portal today.

It is understood “Post” referred to a lead US political official based in the embassy here.

Two individuals were charged over the missing jet engines — former air force Sergeant N. Tharmendran and company director K. Rajandran Prasad in January 6, 2010 in connection with the theft of the missing F5-E jet engines.

Tharmendran was accused of stealing the engines in December 2007 at the Subang RMAF air base while Rajandran was accused of disposing of the engines on April 30, 2008.

The theft was a major embarrassment for the government following reports that the country’s first submarine — KD Tunku Abdul Rahman — could not dive in tropical waters.

The prime minister had vowed that there would be no cover-up in the high-profile case, which occurred during his tenure as defence minister while the current minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, had claimed that it was an inside job.

The engines, purchased in 1972 at a cost of RM303,570, and not RM50 million as initially reported when the story broke, are now reportedly in Uruguay.

The cable also said that state-run media has been muted on the issue while the foreign ministry “has kept itself at arms’ length from the scandal” with the embassy unable to secure meetings with senior Wisma Putra officials to discuss this issue.

It quoted the ministry’s principal assistant secretary (Americas division) Mohamad Radzi Jamaluddin as saying that the defense ministry had the lead on the issue and was being “elusive in its handling of the case.”

The cable, classified by political counsellor Brian D. McFeeters, also said that the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) only officially notified the US of the missing jet engines on January 6, 2010, the same day Tharmendran and Rajandran were charged in court.