Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777. Click to enlarge
Malaysia’s government is deliberately concealing information that would help to explain what happened to missing Flight MH370, the country’s opposition leader has claimed.
In a wide-ranging interview that cast doubt on the official investigation into the disappearance of the plane, Anwar Ibrahim said the country’s “sophisticated” radar system would have identified it after it changed course and crossed back over Malaysia.
Mr Anwar, who personally knew the pilot of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that went missing in the early hours of March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, called for an international committee to take over the Malaysian-led operation because “the integrity of the whole nation is at stake”.
He indicated that it was even possible that there was complicity by authorities on the ground in what happened to the plane and the 239 people on board.
In an interview with The Telegraph, he said that he had personally authorised the installation of “one of the most sophisticated radar” systems in the world, based near the South China Sea and covering Malaysia’s mainland and east and west coastlines, when he was the country’s finance minister in 1994.
It was “not only unacceptable but not possible, not feasible” that the plane had not been sighted by the Marconi radar system immediately after it changed course. The radar, he said, would have instantly detected the Boeing 777 as it travelled east to west across “at least four” Malaysian provinces.
Mr Anwar said it was “baffling” that the country’s air force had “remained silent”, and claimed that it “should take three minutes under SOP (standard operating procedure) for the air force planes to go. And there was no response.”
He added: “We don’t have the sophistication of the United States or Britain but still we have the capacity to protect our borders.”
It was “clearly baffling”, he said, to suggest that radar operators had been unable to observe the plane’s progress.
He said the families of the 153 Chinese victims on board were right to demand information from the Malaysian government, which had permitted a multi-national search operation to spend a week searching in what it must have known was the wrong place.
“Why didn’t we alert the Chinese, the Vietnamese that the operation should cease in the South China Sea and let them spend millions on search and rescue in a place that they know fairly well cannot be the site of the plane?”
As hope fades of recovering the plane’s black box before its batteries start to fail – which could be as early as Monday – Mr Anwar said it was “at the least, incompetence” on the part of the Malaysian government that it is still not known what happened to the plane, but there was also a deliberate “intention to suppress key information”.
“Unfortunately the manner in which this was handled after the first few days was clearly suspect,” he said. “One fact remains. Clearly information critical to our understanding is deemed missing.
“I believe the government knows more than us. They have the authority to instruct the air force … or Malaysia Airlines. They are privy to most of these missing bits of information critical to our understanding of this mysterious disappearance of MH370.”
Mr Anwar indicated that it was a possibility that officials on the ground were complicit in what happened on the plane.
However, he later added that “the realm of possibilities is so vague, I mean, anything can have happened”, adding: “Whether they (the authorities) are complicit in a terrorist act, I’m not in a position to comment.”
A source close to the government claimed that Mr Anwar was attempting to exploit the tragedy for political gain.
“The international media response, completely condemning Malaysia, is unfair. It’s been partly orchestrated by Malaysia’s opposition,” the source said.
“The government has a duty to the families not to release uncorroborated information that leads to false hope or wild goose chases which hamper the investigation. At every step, international investigation protocols have been followed.
“The situation is unprecedented. And the search has actually been handled well. The government is coordinating an enormous operation, and both the commanders on the ground and all the international investigators involved have been complimentary about Malaysia’s efforts.”
“Far from avoiding questions or withholding information, since day one the Malaysian authorities, including ministers, military chiefs, the department for civil aviation and Malaysia Airlines have made themselves available to the media daily. As soon as information has been corroborated, it has been released.”
Malaysian authorities did not respond officially to requests for comment on Mr Anwar’s accusations, but have previously accused him of politicising the crisis.
Efforts to recover the plane in the southern Indian Ocean, more than 1,000 miles off the coast of Perth, continued on Thursday night over a search area roughly the size of Poland. A British Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine is helping to hunt for wreckage, including the black box – before it stops emitting pings.
Relatives of passengers onboard the Malaysian Airlines MH370 near meassages of sympathy.