- Malaysian media published wrong information about missing jet engine scandal
- US embassy finds it hard to believe Malaysian govt
- Malaysian official: Mindef ‘elusive’ about scandal
- RMAF failed three times to tell US officials
- Though engines were stolen in 2008, US told only in January 2010
- Attorney-General defensive about Iran as destination, press drops references to Iran or Middle East
F5E Tiger II fighter jet in service in Iran, which has difficulty obtaining spares because of a UN arms embargo
The Malaysian press published a lot of disinformation and wrong information about the theft of two US-made fighter jet engines in December 2009, a Malaysian foreign ministry official told the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, according to US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.
The embassy also told the State Department that the embassy found it hard to believe the Malaysian government’s explanations on the scandal. “We share some of the incredulity expressed in the blogosphere about the government’s case and explanation of who was behind the engine thefts,” the cable said.
Government officials provided the embassy with little information about the case, and the embassy had to obtain most of its information from the media. The embassy noted that “a chorus of commentary in online media has expressed incredulity at the government’s position 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”.
It said the Malaysian foreign service officer had said the Malaysian defence ministry was being “elusive” in its handling of the case, and the US embassy noted that the foreign office was keeping at arm’s length from the scandal.
The cable, dated Jan 10 last year, was written by the political counsellor, Brian McFeeters, and signed by the ambassador James Keith. (Embassy cables routinely go out in the name of the ambassador.)
It named the Malaysian official as Mohamad Radzi Jamaluddin, the principal assistant secretary (Americas Division) at Wisma Putra, the foreign office.
Radzi suggested that the press had falsely reported that the Malaysian government had asked the US for assistance on the scandal: this was because any such request would have gone through the foreign office. McFeeters also noted that he had no record of any such request from Malaysia.
The cable was published at WikiLeaks last week, one of three cables on the F5 jet engine theft scandal. The J85-21 engines, made by General Electric, were for the Northrop F-5E light fighter jets dating from the 1970s and still in service then with the Royal Malaysian Air Force.
The thefts of the two engines were made public by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the defence minister, to the New Straits Times on Dec 19, 2009 — the same day as the first Pakatan Rakyat convention, which the embassy noted was an event likely to overshadown the Mindef announcement.
“Subsequent reports indicated that, in fact, two engines had been stolen and sold to an international company in South America. The story has been front-page news in Malaysia’s government-influenced press and uncensored blogosphere since then,” the cable said.
It noted that the embassy had queried Malaysian officials about the current location of the engines. “They either do not know the location or have been instructed to withhold information while a police investigation continues,” it said. “The Malaysians “also have not provided adequate explanation as to why, after two years, this incident has just now become public.”
The cable also noted that the Middle East, and specifically Iran, had been stated by police in early press reports as the possible destination. Some independent online news portals claimed that the engines ended up in Iran. At a press conference, the Attorney General reportedly became defensive when asked about the Iran connection, and all references placing the engines in the Middle East or Iran have since been removed from the state-run media.”
THE CABLES IN FULL:
MALAYSIAN F-5 ENGINES CASE AND ACTION REQUEST
23 December 2009
UPDATE ON F-5 ENGINE SCANDAL
28 December 2009
UPDATE ON F-5 ENGINE SCANDAL
10 January 2010