The Malaysian government failed to inform Washington that two “US-supplied” F-5 fighter jet engines had gone missing since May 22, 2008, despite having at least “three opportunities” to come clean, according to leaked United States diplomatic cables released recently.
The engines two years later were finally located two years later in Uruguay.
Whistleblower website Wikileaks released three US diplomatic cables on April 6, 2011, which revealed confidential dispatches over the stolen jet engines between US diplomats based in Kuala Lampur and in Washington. Two of the cables were sent in December 2009 while another was sent in January 2010.
The leaked cable said the Malaysian Defense Ministry had failed to notify the US of the missing jet engines despite the fact American officials had the legal right to be informed of any developments, under the country’s Arms Export Control Act.
“The Malaysian Air Force should have been acutely aware of the requirement to advise the US immediately of missing engines.
“Malaysian government officials continue to communicate little information directly to Post regarding the missing F-5,” the cable quoted an official, as saying. The cable was dated December 23, 2009.
The leaked cables cited at least three opportunities in which the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) should have notified the US of the missing jet engines:
“In January 2009, in accordance with USAF regulations, the Malaysian Air Force submitted an inventory recertification listing of J-85 engines to the USAF J-85 engine program manager. There were no discrepancies identified to Post in this inventory,” according to the cable.
It is understood “Post” referred to the US official based in the embassy here.
“In March 2009, the Malaysian Air Force advised Post they had sent a J-85 engine to Orenda Company in Canada in 2006 for repair. Subsequently, the engine developed faults and the Malaysian Air Force was attempting to ship the engine back to Canada for warranty work.
“During this period, the Department of State Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers (PM/RSAT) advised that such a transfer, even if for repair, required a formal application from Malaysia and USG approval. Malaysia completed this application in April and State PM/RSAT approved the temporary transfer to Orenda in July 2009.
“In May 2009, the USAF and Malaysian Air Force conducted a routine bilateral J85 engine review conference. No issues of missing engines were raised to Post during this conference,” according to the leaked cable.
The leaked cables suggested that US officials were dissatisfied that they were not duly informed of what had happened and had to rely on local Malaysian media reports on the matter, which they have claimed were inaccurate.
“After extensive recent media reporting on missing F-5 aircraft engines, it is important for the US Embassy to receive a briefing from the Government of Malaysia on this case,” said the leaked cable.
US officials also stated that the government had yet to provide an explanation of measures designed to prevent future theft of US military equipment supplied to them (Malaysia).
“The Government of Malaysia’s promptness and thoroughness in replying to these requests for information will have a bearing on the ability of the United States government to continue supplying such military equipment to the Government of Malaysia,” added the leaked confidential report.
Another cable dated January 10, 2010, said Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had “kept itself at arms length from the scandal” even as Opposition lawmakers attacked the government in what is seen as one of the government’s most embarrassing public scandals to date.
It said that the RMAF had only sent an official letter to the US Office of Defense Cooperation chief Lieutenant Colonel Steve Ma informing them of the missing jet engines on January 6, 2010.
“The RMAF fully understood the requirements of the United States government on Foreign Military Sales (FMS) policy in relation to this incident but were unable to notify earlier pending completion of investigations by the Royal Malaysian Police.
“We believed that the investigation is nearing its conclusion and will follow with prosecution by the Attorney General’s Chamber. We will endeavour to notify the progress on this matter to the United States Government through your office as soon as we have more information,” said the letter, which was signed by Chief of Air Force General Tan Sri Datuk Seri Rodzali Daud.
The third cable dated December 28, 2009 was not unclassified and only mentioned that the RMAF would offer an explanation by January 8, 2010.
Two individuals were charged over the missing jet engines — former Malaysian air force Sergeant N. Tharmendran and company director K. Rajandran Prasad. They were jointly charged in the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court on January 6, 2010 in connection with the theft of the missing F5-E jet engines.
Tharmendran was accused of stealing the engines in December 2007 at the Subang RMAF air base. He was arrested in September 2009. Rajandran was accused of disposing of the engines on April 30, 2008.
The theft was a major embarrassment for the government following reports that the country’s first submarine — KD Tunku Abdul Rahman — could not dive in tropical waters.
The Malaysian prime minister had vowed that there would be no cover-up in the high-profile case, which occurred during his tenure as defense minister while the current minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, had claimed that it was an inside job.
The RMAF discovered that the jet engines and their maintenance records were missing on May 22, 2008 and a police report was lodged on August 4 the same year. The engines, purchased in 1972 at a cost of RM 303,570, and not RM 50 million as initially reported when the story broke, are now reportedly in Uruguay, which Malaysian investigators and prosecutors have visited on several occasion.