Missing jet engines spark crisis in Malaysia

By Kevin Brown in Singapore | Financial Times
Published: December 22 2009 13:58 | Last updated: December 22 2009 13:58

The Malaysian government is facing a fresh corruption crisis after officials admitted that two US-made fighter jet engines had disappeared from an air force base after apparently being illicitly sold by military officers to a South American arms dealer.

Najib Razak, prime minister, said there would be a full investigation of the thefts, which happened in 2007 and 2008, when he was defence minister. However, opposition parties accused the government of covering up the incidents.

Lim Kit Siang, parliamentary leader of the opposition Democratic Action party, said the authorities had been “super slow” and claimed that the prime minister’s response had painted “a frightening picture of a government of thieves”.

Idris Ahmad, spokesman for the allied Parti Islam SeMalaysia, said “powerful people” had been involved. “We don’t want only the ikan bilis [anchovies] to be arrested while the sharks are allowed to swim freely,” he said.

The General Electric J85-21A engines, each worth about M$50m ($15m), were spares for the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s Northrop Grumman F-5E Tiger II fighters, which fly from the Butterworth air base near the country’s northern border with Thailand.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, defence minister, said the engines and associated equipment were “believed to have been sent to a South American country” after being moved to the Sungai Besi air force base in Kuala Lumpur for maintenance.

The defence ministry would not identify the company or the country involved or comment on claims in the Malaysian media that the engines may have ended up in the Middle East.

The F-5 went out of production in 1989 but is still flown as a trainer aircraft by US forces and is in frontline or reserve service with many foreign air forces, including that of Iran.

The defence ministry said several senior officers were being investigated. General Azizan Ariffin, chief of the armed forces, said the engine thefts might have been “the tip of the iceberg”, raising the possibility that other military equipment might also have disappeared.

The disclosure of the thefts is a serious blow to Mr Najib, who has promised a crackdown on corruption as part of efforts to recover support for his long-serving National Front government, which lost many of its seats in a general election last year.

The prime minister last week unveiled a three-year action plan amid concerns about declining investor interest and the impact of Malaysia’s fall to 56th in the 2009 Corruption Index published by Transparency International – down from 47th in 2008.

Mr Najib has flatly denied any personal corruption, including opposition claims of involvement in an allegedly corrupt submarine deal while he served as defence minister.

Corruption charges were brought this month against a senior port executive and two other officials linked to a controversial development near Kuala Lumpur known as the Port Klang Free Trade Zone.

The arrests followed a damning parliamentary report that found widespread corruption and cost overruns at the project, which has run up debts of more than $1bn.

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  1. #1 by pulau_sibu on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 1:59 pm

    Who is harmful to the country? RPK or jet engine/airport thefts. The police should stop serving for the politicians and concentrate in combating the real crimes

  2. #2 by Godfather on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 2:59 pm

    Oops, I heard that the CCTVs at the military base are not in working order. Apparently they have not been in working order for the past few years. So Gani Patail is going to charge a sergeant plus two corporals on guard duty with treason. Wait a minute, without CCTV footage, who knows on what day those engines were stolen. OK, Gani Patail is going to charge 10 sergeants and 20 corporals for treason.

    Najib was right all along – “No senior officers were involved in the theft.” The corporals got together and hatched the scheme. They negotiated with international arms dealers, opened offshore banks accounts, falsified export documents, negotiated shipping contracts, stole the logbooks for both engines, bribed customs people. Man, these corporals are good – we should put them on UMNO’s payroll. It will be a waste to put them behind bars.

  3. #3 by boh-liao on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 3:17 pm

    It was during d time when sleepy AAB was d PM n NR d Defence Minister
    When C4 was stolen 2 blow a beauty away
    When two fighter engines were stolen n exported
    When …….. what else (what abt submarine bot @ a ridiculously high price n commission)
    Got seppuku or not – probably not, no samurai honor/spirit lah

  4. #4 by frankyapp on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 3:42 pm

    Don’t you guys all worry about catching the big fat fish.You know ,how long Umno/Bn can keep on covering up them. At the rate the corruption is going on now ,sooner or later,they will run out of, especially the XXXL size/type cover.

  5. #5 by frankyapp on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 3:47 pm

    Didn’t any of you guys know just recently another big roof fell down in Trengganu ?.What’s next ! Ha Ha could it be NR’s head ?.

  6. #6 by pwcheng on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 4:46 pm

    There are too many scandals rocking Malaysia, too many for anyone to swallow. Trying to cover one and another one pop up. It is like the game of hitting the popping rabbit.

    I think the perception of the Government is simply beyond repair and Datuk Sri Idris Jala will have a Herculean tasks of redeeming the government’s image by his NKRA and KPI’s project. These projects are likely to be sabotaged by the UMNO warlords, hence ending to be more likely to backlash the BN than to assist the them. The chances of success is 20% compare to 80% failure. Except for the Ministers involved, Jala and Tsu Koon, I really do not see the support of it by other Ministers especially from UMNO. I think many are just waiting to put a spanner in the works and i can predict the fate of DS Idris Jala will be the same as Datuk Mohd Zaid Ibrahin if he really push for it. If not it will die a natural death as history will repeat itself insofar as UMNO is concern.

  7. #7 by frankyapp on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 5:24 pm

    I think it’s better for Idris Jala to leave now before he gets himself mix up with dirt and sh+t. Come on,come out now join DAP/PR,go back to Sarawak and fight for your people.They needed you there badly.

  8. #8 by ReformMalaysia on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 6:43 pm

    When C4 being ‘smuggled out ‘ (or was it being ‘authorised’ out?) for blowing up Altantantunya…. probably that is an ‘isolated case’

    But now 2 jet engines for the country war-plane was ‘smuggled out’ and exported to Argentina….. can that still be considered as ‘isolated case’ anymore? Both happened during the tenure of the same Finance Minister…

    We demand for accountability….whether it is due to incompetency or ‘misconduct’ or corruption….whatever it is… someone need to be accountable for it….

    It involved public fund… and it is about nation’s security too!

  9. #9 by ReformMalaysia on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 6:45 pm

    But now 2 jet engines for the country’s war-planes were ’smuggled out’ and exported to Argentina….. can that still be considered as ‘isolated case’ anymore? Both happened during the tenure of the same Defense Minister…

  10. #10 by ringthetill on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 7:27 pm

    Incredible, shameless.. simple words to described the BN government and those in authority. Only good at bullying ordinary citizens.

  11. #11 by cemerlang on Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 11:15 pm

    This case happened not just yesterday. Datuk Idris Jala is not a politician. He should know much earlier on why he is called to be in a position which has nothing to do with his work experience. Whether he was in MAS or whether he is now in the Prime Minister’s department. We will never know if he will be called to be a full fledged politician. He is a man who is willing to take on challenges. Even great ones. But one thing for sure, the KPI scans through all the documented reports and finds out those irregularities. Verdict: POOR MANAGEMENT. For the last 50 years. Don’t blame the people now. The finger of blame should point to the beginning of the problem and that was 50 years ago. Back then, there was poor management and this poor management goes on until now and later. Now that you have all the documents. The next step should be to find out the culprits and punish them. Question is do you have the guts to punish them ? Is it worth it to punish them ? Or may be let’s do it the quiet way. The punishment is meted out without anyone knowing it. How’s that for transparency’s sake ? To think that this old engine has travelled half the world away is quite hard to believe. Therefore there is no such a thing as useless. This old engine can still work powerfully in the hands of some professional scientists, professional engineers, professional mechanics who are out to make a buck or two. It takes professional people to know what to do with an old engine but sophisticated one. Professional magician to make the engine poof into thin air.

  12. #12 by cheng on on Friday, 25 December 2009 - 5:17 pm

    Those involved (if they do not face death penalty)should receive the following
    a). Citizenships taken away, they should be made stateless, not fit to be Malaysian!!!
    b). Property n asset confiscated, made a bankrupt!!
    c). 24 strokes of the rotan
    d). minimum 15 years jail

  13. #13 by hurricanemax on Friday, 25 December 2009 - 7:48 pm

    1BIG shame! The culprits are not only downright corrupted public servants but cheapskate traitors to boot…Bet you the rot goes to the top too.

  14. #14 by ringthetill on Friday, 25 December 2009 - 10:52 pm

    As one great man once said ‘What crisis?’ Certainly not in Malaysia!
    The high and mighty don’t ever make mistakes, never indulge in corruption, and always have the best interests of the rakyat at heart.

  15. #15 by son of perpaduan on Tuesday, 29 December 2009 - 11:24 am

    MOSTERBALL, please update more issue on public plights coz The Star paper useless now. More public news needed to stimulate the anger of public towards BN umno goverment. The Star wasting space section publish only affair on bung mokhtar story, who care men!

  16. #16 by good coolie on Tuesday, 29 December 2009 - 11:29 am

    The consolation is that the missing-engines matter has come out in the open, as will many other cases of theft and corruption involving public assets. I thank the ‘internet’ for this; nowadays, it is hard for the government to hide this sort of thing. You can’t hide durians, bacang, and rotting corpses; and for a good reason too!

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