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

By Kyung Lah and Tim Hume, CNN
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
  • 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.

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