Skip to main content

Malaysian politician: Flight 370 pilot supported me, but was no hijacker

By Kyung Lah and Tim Hume, CNN
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
  • Pilot of MH 370 was a supporter of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim
  • Anwar was sentenced to 5 years in jail hours before the plane vanished
  • Some have speculated the plane could have been hijacked in response to the sentence
  • Anwar says theory is meant to deflect from "incompetent" handling of crisis

(CNN) -- Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says the captain of MH 370 is a card-carrying member of his party -- and an extremely distant relative -- but he dismissed suggestions the pilot may have diverted the plane as a political act in his support.

Hours before the Malaysia Airlines flight vanished en route to Beijing on March 8, Anwar, de facto leader of the People's Justice Party, was sentenced to five years in jail after a court overturned his 2012 acquittal on a sodomy charge.

Some media outlets have reported that the plane's pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had attended the court hearing, and speculated that the flight's disappearance may have been a political act in response to the verdict. As authorities increasingly focused their attentions on events in the cockpit, the homes of Zaharie and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid were searched, and a homemade flight simulator found in Zaharie's home, Malaysian officials revealed..

Anwar, who is free pending appeal, told CNN his party had been unable to establish whether Zaharie had been in attendance at court, although a number of his friends had reported he had been "upset and disgusted" by the outcome.

The opposition leader recognized photographs of Zaharie from political meetings, and subsequently established he was a member of his party -- and a distant relative of his daughter-in-law.

However, he labeled the suggestion that Zaharie could have steered the airliner from its designated flight path as a political act as "grossly unfair" to the missing pilot.

WATCH: Politics of MH 370 pilot questioned

He alleged that the speculation had only gained traction as a result of the government trying to deflect attention from its "incompetent" handling of the crisis.

"I think there's a desperation by the government of the ruling leadership over the manner they managed the whole crisis. Clearly incompetent, contradictory statements, poor management of the crisis," he said.

"In order to deflect that, their own failure, their own incompetence, they now choose to attack me," he said. "They fail on every count... They're now desperate to cast aspersions against me as leader of the opposition."

Malaysian political scientist Wong Chin Huat said that while close scrutiny of the potential motivations of anyone onboard is warranted, he believes the speculated link to Malaysian domestic politics was a "red herring."

"Had the captain intended to cause this incident in protest, there should be clearly some clue. It's pointless to make a political statement in silence, that leaves everyone guessing where you are going," he said, adding that such drastic actions would be unprecedented in Malaysian politics.

He had seen no evidence to back up Anwar's claim that the theory had been promulgated by Malaysian authorities to distract from their handling of the crisis, but said that such an explanation was "very possible."

"You have a one-party state run by princelings that demonstrates very poor leadership and very chaotic coordination -- poor leadership and chaotic coordination that has been distracted from by this red herring," he said.

Malaysian government officials declined to respond to Anwar's comments.

Anwar has repeatedly said he is innocent of a charge he sodomized a former aide, calling the case against him an attempt by the government to end his political career. The Malaysian government has consistently denied his accusations.

When asked at a news conference Tuesday about the Anwar angle, Malaysia's Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that the issue was above politics, and that speculation linking the plane's disappearance to Anwar's sentencing had come from foreign media, not by his government.

Who were the pilots?

Journalist Chan Kok Leong contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
The search for MH370 is moving to an area farther south in the Indian Ocean, said the Australian Deputy Prime Minister.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT)
Erin Burnett speaks to Miles O'Brien about the latest in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Ten experts say that the search for MH370 should move hundreds of miles away from the previous search area.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
His wife never came home from her flight on MH370, and now K.S. Narendran is left to imagine the worst of possible truths without knowing.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Families are desperate for results as the search for MH370 reaches a grim milestone. Anna Coren reports from Beijing.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Relatives of passengers are launching an effort to raise $5 million for investigations and a "whistle blower" reward.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT)
Making sure another plane is never "lost" again is the immediate priority for the airline industry.
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 1536 GMT (2336 HKT)
This handout photo taken on April 7, 2014 and released on April 9, 2014 by Australian Defence shows Maritime Warfare Officer, Sub Lieutenant Ryan Penrose watching HMAS Success as HMAS Perth approaches for a replenishment at sea while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Two fresh signals have been picked up Australian ship Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysian flight MH370, raising hopes that wreckage will be found within days even as black box batteries start to expire.
Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope. Rene Marsh explains.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2105 GMT (0505 HKT)
Involved parties, including the manufacturer Boeing, are bracing for a long public relations siege.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
Official: The four acoustic pings at the center of the search for Flight 370 are no longer believed to have come from the plane's black boxes.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
There is one fundamental question which continues to swirl: Has Inmarsat got its numbers right?
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1213 GMT (2013 HKT)
Data from communications between satellites and missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was released
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 0742 GMT (1542 HKT)
Family members of the people aboard missing plane want independent investigators to review the newly released satellite data.
May 21, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
CNN's Richard Quest explains what kind of information should be contained in the Inmarsat data from Flight MH370.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane will effectively be put on hold this week, and may not resume until August at the earliest.
May 19, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
Movie-makers in Cannes have announced they're making a thriller based on the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.
May 6, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now. CNN's David Molko looks back at this difficult, emotional assignment.