Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lawyers to claim airman ‘tortured’ over stolen jet engines


KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — Lawyers for the family of Sergeant N. Tharmendran, charged with stealing two jet engines, said they are going to “open a can worms” when they file a police report on behalf of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) airman today over his treatment in remand.

Lawyer N. Surendran told The Malaysian Insider that his client has been made a “scapegoat” when he was charged with abetting the theft of the RMAF F5-E jet engines earlier this year and then remanded in Sungai Buloh prison.

“He is just a low-ranking air force personnel and we believe he was charged to protect others.” Surendran told The Malaysian Insider.

The RMAF discovered that the jet engines and their maintenance records were missing on May 22, 2008 and a police report was lodged on Aug 4 the same year.

The engines, purchased in 1972 at a cost of RM303,570 and not RM50 million as initially reported when the story broke, are now reportedly in Uruguay.

The theft was a major embarrassment to the government, followed by reports later that the country’s first submarine — the KD Tunku Abdul Rahman — could not dive in tropical waters. The Perdana Menteri-class submarine is one of two bought under a multi-billion ringgit deal.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had vowed that there would be no cover-up over the engines’ theft, which took place when he was defence minister, while current Defence Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi had said it was an inside job.

Surendran said his client was “made to confess” to the theft and they would reveal exactly what he was “subjected to” after his family lodges a police report at the Brickfields District Police Headquarters this morning.

The 42-year-old air force sergeant and company director K. Rajandran Prasad were jointly charged in the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court on Jan 6 in connection with the missing F5 jet engines.

Unlike his co-accused, Tharmendran was not able to raise the RM150,000 bail set by the Sessions Court and has been in prison for the last six months.

Surendran had filed an appeal at the High Court to reduce the bail amount but no date has been scheduled yet.

“At the most, bail for theft is usually fixed at between RM10,000 and RM20,000, not RM150,000 which is excessive.”

But he claims the prosecution had refused to relent and had argued for the high bail amount to be maintained when the case was last mentioned on March 29.

The prosecution reportedly used “national security” as the basis for their argument.

“This is a miscarriage of justice and raises the question of whether there is a deliberate attempt to keep my client in jail to keep him from revealing what he knows,” the lawyer said.

Tharmendran is accused of stealing the engines in Dec 2007 at the Subang RMAF air base.

He was also charged with conspiring in the theft with senior airman Mohamad Shukri Mohamad Yusop at the material processing shed at the Sungai Besi RMAF base.

He was arrested on Sept 1 last year, and if convicted, faces up to 10 years in jail and a fine.

Rajandran is accused of disposing off the engines on April 30, 2008.

Their trial has been scheduled for five days between July 19 and July 23.

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