RMAF sergeant, director charged with jet engines theft

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6 — Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Sgt N. Tharmendran and company director Rajandran Prasad were today charged in the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court today in connection with the missing two F-5E jet engines amid cynicism that the government has covered up the scandalous theft.

Rajandran, 37, was charged with disposing of the engines while Tharmendran, 42, was charged with stealing the engines. Bail for the two was set at RM150,000. The case has been fixed for mention on Feb 11.

Police had earlier said four men, three of them rank-and-file RMAF airmen, were the only ones involved in the 2007 theft of two General Electric J85-21A turbojet engines, said to be worth RM100 million, much to the chagrin of many that the scale of the crime suggests higher-ups were involved.

The RMAF had earlier denied that a brigadier-general and 40 others sacked for incompetence were involved in the crime.

According to the charge sheet, Tharmendran, who is still serving in the air force, had conspired with senior airman Mohamad Shukri Mohamad Yusop at the RMAF base Subang Jaya to steal the engines from the Material Procession Shed at RMAF Base in Sungai Besi on Dec 2007.

If found guilt he faces imprisonment of up to 10 years and fine. Mohamad Shukri was not charged.

Rajandran was charged with intentionally disposing of the engines which he knew were stolen on April 30, 2008 at the Subang Industrial Park. He faces a maximum of seven years imprisonment and fine.

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Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said last night the RMAF airman would be charged for stealing while the company director for disposing of stolen properties.

“Investigations revealed that both F-5E jet engines were removed from the Material Udara 1 (Matra 1) godown in Kuala Lumpur as a result of a collaboration between an RMAF personnel with the rank of sergeant and a company director to dispose off both jet engines,” he said in a statement issued via Bernama.

He said based on information from witnesses and documents obtained, he ordered the duo to be charged.

The sergeant will be charged under section 380 of the Penal Code to be read with section 109 of the same code, while the company director, under section 414 of the code.

The jets engines were found missing in 2007 while being taken for a routine maintenance from the 12th Squadron (Scorpion) in Butterworth to the RMAF godown in Kuala Lumpur.

The jet engines were discovered stolen by RMAF on May 22, 2008 and a police report was lodged on Aug 4 the same year.

But like the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal where four executives were charged for criminal breach of trust (CBT), prosecuting the airmen and company director will not abate calls for further investigations into how the jet engines ended up in South America.

Gani had said the engines powering the ageing F-5Es are now in Uruguay after police said it went through a Middle East nation to Argentina.

They have said that Malaysia will seek international cooperation to recover the engines.

But opposition leaders are asking for a royal commission of inquiry into the theft that happened when Datuk Seri Najib Razak was the defence minister.

Now prime minister, Najib has promised that there will be no cover-up but many are left pondering his words with just a serviceman and an aviation services firm director in the dock.

Read the full TMI report here.

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Points to consider:

a) Why wasn’t the senior airman, Mohamad Shukri, similarly charged if evidence of conspiring (abetment) exist for Tharmendran? Has Mohamad Shukri turned state witness for the prosecution and ‘spill the beans’ on the alleged perpetrators? If so, was the same option offered to Tharmendran? If not, why not?

b) For the two jet engines to be delivered for repairs/maintenance outside the confines of a military base,  a senior ranking officer must have given the order and the base security personnel would have been alerted. Logistically, it is impossible to transport the engines without it being noticed because of its size and more importantly, without the relevant ‘approved’ paperwork.

c) Therefore, was Tharmendran assigned the job to deliver the engines? If so, his name would appear on the relevant documents. The real culprit would not implicate him/herself by doing so.

d) I believe Airod does all the MRO (maintenance/repair/overhaul) works for the RMAF. They have the necessary expertise and equipment to handle the job (read here) which include the Northtrop F5 as well as the General Electric J85-21 propulsion system. Replacement parts could be brought in from the U.S. (subject to Mindef request) and installed at the Airod service centre (in Subang).

e) Was Rajandran an Airod employee? If so, his name will also appear on the relevant documents. And again, the real felon would not be.

f) Airod is an established name with an accomplished credibility in this region for aeronautics and therefore, would be a familiar name to RMAF personnel. As long as the relevant documents are in order, the engine delivery will pass muster. However, knowing this, the actual perpetrators may use ‘Airod’ as an unknowing conduit for their plans to hijack the engines i.e. while the paperwork (and intended destination) are above board, the physical delivery may have been diverted to another location as soon as the engines gets pass security.

g) Earlier, it has been reported officially via the MSMs that the engines were sent overseas for repairs. Why? Airod should have been the obvious choice for a number of reasons i.e. cost-benefit, security, familiarity and expertise (with a 30 year old technology), etc. Was this information ‘leaked’ to fit the ‘shipping’ stories of Argentina and Uruguay? Both countries do not operate F5s in their air force and I doubt they wish to start with just two engines. Meanwhile, Iran keeps popping up whenever F5s are discussed but they have developed the variant ‘Saegheh‘ (Thunder) in 2006 with newer aerodynamics equaling the F18s.

h) Lastly, how do ‘Thieving Traitors’ move heavy military hardware without raising any suspicion? How about doing it when LIMA is ongoing? It takes care of ALL the security concerns/obstacles that TTs has to address and right under the noses of the authorities including Mindef, the Home ministry and Customs. But it certainly goes beyond the capabilities of a sergeant!

Sooo .. the Attorney-General must be kidding if he thinks Malaysians are a gullible lot.

Let’s see if RPK can shed more light on Enginegate.