Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has condemned speculation that the captain of a missing Malaysian airliner – a member of his party and a distant relative – may have had political motives to sabotage the plane.
Describing Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah as a “decent man”, Anwar said he was “disgusted” by what he saw as an attempt to smear the pilot and somehow implicate the opposition leadership in the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
The investigative spotlight has focused on Zaharie and his co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, since it became clear that the plane was deliberately diverted from its intended flight path to Beijing by someone on board.
Multiple media reports have noted Zaharie, 53, was an active member of Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party), and some have suggested he might have sabotaged the flight as an act of political revenge.
In a highly controversial case, Anwar was convicted of sodomy – illegal in Muslim Malaysia – just hours before MH370 took off. He was sentenced to five years in jail but is free pending an appeal.
A Keadilan party official on Tuesday confirmed press reports that Zaharie was actually a distant relative of Anwar’s daughter-in-law.
“Is it a crime for anyone to be a member of Keadilan? To me it is an attempt to deflect the government’s incompetence,” Anwar told AFP.
“I of course did not take the news reports seriously. But I am speaking out because I sympathise with the pilot and his family,” he said.
“The mysterious disappearance of MH370 reflects not only an incompetent regime ruling the country but an irresponsible government,” Anwar added.
The Malaysian authorities have had to defend themselves against repeated accusations that they withheld key information during the early stages of the search for the missing aircraft.