Reports claiming that MH370 pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s political affiliations may be connected to the disappearance of the plane have been dismissed as unfounded speculation by the Malaysian opposition People’s Justice Party, of which the captain is a member.
“Allegations that some tabloids in the UK have made about captain Zaharie were wild and not supported by facts,” party spokesman Fahmi Fadzil said to South China Morning Post.
Fahmi is likely referencing yesterday’s Daily Mail report alleging that Captain Zaharie was at the court that sent opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to jail on sodomy charges just hours before the pilot boarded MH370. The allegations (accompanied by organized info-graphics) are as follows:
Captian Shah was an ‘obsessive’ supporter of Ibrahim. And hours before the doomed flight left Kuala Lumpur it is understood 53-year-old Shah attended a controversial trial in which Ibrahim was jailed for five years.
Campaigners say the politician, the key challenger to Malaysia’s ruling party, was the victim of a long-running smear campaign and had faced trumped-up charges.
Police sources have confirmed that Shah was a vocal political activist – and fear that the court decision left him profoundly upset. It was against this background that, seven hours later, he took control of a Boeing 777-200 bound for Beijing and carrying 238 passengers and crew.
“I was at the trial during the two days and do not remember seeing him,” Fahmi said, adding that he didn’t know Zaharie was a party member until the news about the missing plane surfaced last week.
Investigators have not been able to confirm if Zaharie was in court, but Sivarasa Rasiah, a lawyer representing Anwar in the case, likewise attested that Zaharie wasn’t in attendance.
“Even though I was not there at the trial for its entirety, I can say that he was not there. Because if he was, I would have been notified,” he said.
Wild theories over the plane’s disappearance have been coming through the woodworks following a press conference held by the Malaysian prime minister in which he said that the data reporting system of MH370 was disabled in “deliberate action by someone on the plane” with considerable flying experience, and that investigations were refocusing on crew members aboard.
A friend and fellow member of the Malaysian opposition party, 51-year-old Peter Chong, likewise rushed to the defense of Zaharie amidst speculation, telling The Sunday Mirror “I would trust that man with my life”.
“The Malaysian government may play with his political membership with the opposition party, but I think it’s got nothing to do with this. I hope to let the families of the passengers know their lives were in the hands of somebody good,” Chong told the Post.
The vanishing of the aircraft, carrying 239 people on board, continues to baffle authorities and experts as more than a week of searching and several false leads have provided little insight into its disappearance.