PETALING JAYA: Investigators in Australia are coming down hard against any possible leak of information pertaining to its search for missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 by threatening to jail staff members, The Australian reported.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) gave this warning after having refused to release material pertaining to the search efforts, as requested by families of the Chinese passengers of the ill-fated flight.
Invoking an article of law that was rarely used under the Transport Safety Investigation Act, ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said the request was denied because the release of the information could “cause damage to the international relations of the commonwealth”.
“The activities of the ATSB with respect to assisting the Malaysian investigation are covered by the TSI Act,” Hood said in supporting a decision that was made in February by the ATSB general manager for strategic capability Colin McNamara when the latter denied a Freedom of Information request which was first made by The Australian.
According to the daily, the law also carries with it a penalty of two years in jail, should any ATSB employee leak the requested information.
“The act allows for a serving or former ATSB staffer or consultant who discloses information to any person or to a court; and the information is restricted, to be considered as having breached the act, and be subject to a penalty of two years in prison,” Hood was quoted as saying.
Following the decision, the families of the Chinese passengers accused Australia of being complicit in a cover-up by the Malaysian government.
“Is avoiding offending the Malaysian authorities more important than discovering the truth?” the families said in a statement after the first request was refused in February.
The particular information requested was said to be documents that the ATSB had claimed supported its “ghost flight” and “death dive” scenario, which holds the Boeing 777 went down in an unpiloted crash.
However, according to The Australian, some ATSB officers are having second thoughts about the agency’s official line that MH370’s pilots were unconscious or dead at the end of the flight. Hence, the fear that some of the documents may be leaked.
Flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014 with 239 passengers and crew on board, most of them Chinese, en route to Beijing from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Its whereabouts have become one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.
The disappearance of MH370 sparked the largest and most expensive search operation in aviation history.
However, Australia, China and Malaysia, which jointly coordinated and funded the search operation led by ATSB, announced in January the suspension of the search for MH370.