Stolen jet engines found in Argentina

TUDM F-5E Tiger II. (Photo: Benolkin)

December 26, 2009, Kuala Lumpur —- Two missing fighter-jet engines stolen by military personnel in Malaysia's latest corruption scandal have been traced to South America, police here said yesterday.

'The stolen engines have been taken to Argentina,' police chief Tan Sri Musa Hassan was quoted as telling Agence France-Presse.

'We have to check whether the engines are still in that country.'

The Star newspaper yesterday also reported, without naming sources, that the two F5-E jet engines were shipped from Port Klang to another country before going to Argentina.

It added that they were believed to be in the possession of an individual, as the Argentinian military does not use the United States-made jets.

Defence Minister Datuk Sri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had earlier said that the engines, worth RM50 million each, were believed to have been sent to a South American country.

But other reports had raised speculation that the engines were headed for Iran, which is among a handful of countries subject to an American arms embargo and still uses old F5 jet planes.

Tan Sri Musa told The Star that several top officers from the air force, including generals, are expected to be questioned in connection with the theft.

Four people, including three low-ranking personnel, who were arrested for their alleged involvement have been freed on bail.

'We need to question all of them as it is not easy to just cart away the engines without authorisation and proper documents,' he said.

'Our investigators have so far seized and recovered several documents pertaining to the sale and shipping of the engines.'

The police chief could not be reached for further comment.

The timing of the scandal could not be worse for the current administration, which only last week pledged to weed out corruption in a highly-publicised action plan for the country.

The theft was discovered last year but became public only last week when it was exposed by a local newspaper.

The incident has been particularly embarrassing for Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who was Defence Minister when the theft took place.

Yesterday, the New Straits Times reported that the Malaysian Cabinet has directed the Defence Ministry to prepare a summary of the theft.

The report, which will detail a chronology of the incident, will be submitted by Datuk Seri Dr Zahid on Jan 6.

Officials have promised there will be no cover-up of the incident. But details have been scant, leading to much speculation in the media.

Although it was reported that a brigadier-general and about 20 other military personnel have been sacked, no names have been revealed so far.

A commentary in China Press yesterday called on the Defence Ministry to be more forthcoming with information, as the scandal is leaving Malaysians with 'too many questions'.

'The current situation, with different papers using different sources to write their own stories, is only adding to the confusion,' it said.

Straits Times

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