Najib says MH370 probe never ruled out criminal plot or pilot’s political loyalty

Najib Razak, who was the prime minister at the height of the MH370 episode, says investigators never ruled out criminal plot involving pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Najib Razak today appeared to confirm a claim by former Australian premier Tony Abbott that Malaysian officials had suspected a criminal plot in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The former prime minister said authorities had also focused their probe into the political affiliations of MH370 pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

However, he said the suspicions were not made public despite the then opposition’s attempts to blame his government over its handling of the MH370 episode.

“It would have been deemed unfair and legally irresponsible since the black boxes and cockpit voice recorders had not been found and hence, there was no conclusive proof whether the pilot was solely or jointly responsible,” Najib, who was the prime minister when the plane carrying 239 people vanished six years ago during a midnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, told FMT today.

“Again I must stress that this possible scenario was never ruled out during the search effort and investigations, where no effort was spared,” he added.

“The pilot is a known active opposition party member who had attended various political activities and the opposition leader had admitted later that the pilot was related to him,” Najib told FMT.

The former prime minister did not identify who he meant, but he appeared to make a reference to the Sodomy II trial involving PKR president Anwar Ibrahim.

The plane had gone missing a day after Anwar was sentenced to jail following the Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn his acquittal on a charge of sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

It was widely reported Zaharie had attended the hearing at the Court of Appeal on March 7.

Days after the incident, Anwar admitted that Zaharie was related to him through the marriage of one of his children, and that he had also met the senior pilot on “several occasions”.

Abbott, interviewed for an upcoming Sky News documentary ahead of the sixth anniversary of the plane’s disappearance next month, said he had been told by the “highest levels” of Malaysian officials that Zaharie could have committed mass murder.

“My understanding – my very clear understanding – from the very top levels of the Malaysian government is that from very, very early on here they thought it was a murder-suicide by the pilot,” Abbott said.

Najib said there were several reasons for the authorities to suspect Zaharie’s involvement, including the fact that the plane’s transponders were switched off at a critical moment, when it was about to enter Vietnam’s air space.

“This suggests that whoever was responsible had intimate knowledge of commercial flights,” Najib said.

Najib said investigators also took into account Zaharie’s emotional state of mind, as well as a flight simulator he had in his house which aroused suspicions.

Najib, however, said he did not believe a political party could be blamed if it was true the pilot had carried out mass murder.

“But it cannot be disputed that their political propaganda machinery and messages at that time were very effective, to the point that many Malaysians were misled and radicalised to the point of fanaticism.

“The mass rallies attended by hundreds of thousands of people after the general election in the previous year before the plane went missing, who believed the malicious and false claims of the opposition party then that there were 40,000 phantom voters and mass blackout during the polling day, is proof of such fanaticism.

“Such claims have since been proven to be outright lies by the then opposition and yet many were absolutely convinced at that time,” said Najib, referring to allegations of cheating during the 2013 elections.

Najib warned the public against any conclusion blaming the pilot “until and unless the black boxes and voice cockpit recorders are recovered”.

MH370’s disappearance is considered one of aviation’s biggest mysteries, and culminated in the longest and most expensive search and rescue mission in history.