The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 31, 2014. Photo: Reuters/Rob Griffith
The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 on March 31, 2014. Photo: Reuters / Rob Griffith

From debris on a remote Indian Ocean island investigators seem able to piece together the watery fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Yet for some reason they still seem unable to piece together the causes of the disaster despite obvious hints.

One such hint is the general consensus that from the start the plane must have been under the control of someone determined to push it off course, evade radar checks and send the plane in the suicidal direction of the southern Indian Ocean. In which case suspicion must fall on the only person who could have done all that, namely the chief pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah. 

To date Shah has been exonereated on the grounds that he was an experienced pilot who loved his work and his hobbies and who lacked any reason for wanting to dump a plane carrying 239 people into distant waters.

But Shah was also a very political person. Like many others he was deeply upset by the way the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) regime had kept itself in power in Malaysia for 57 years through a variety of undemocratic stratagems.

Its most notorious had been the 1998 use of almost certainly trumped-up sodomy and corruption charges to have the popular and able politician Anwar Ibrahim jailed, and so removed from the political scene. Anwar’s People’s Justice Party had posed a real threat to UMNO’s monopoly on power.

On March 7, 2014, at 3 o’clock on the afternoon of that fateful flight, Shah was seen in the courthouse of the national capital, Kuala Lumpur, where a decision was made that would see Anwar jailed for another six years. It was a cruel verdict for a man already over 70 years of age. 

Shah was a close supporter of Anwar; some say he may even have been a distant relative. Just eight hours later Shah was at the controls of Flight MH370, destination Beijing. Is it impossible that he might have decided to get revenge on a regime he despised by having the plane disappear?

As a government carrier, Malaysia Airlines had long been involved in some UMNO scandals. And there is no doubt the plane’s disappearance, combined with the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 07 over Ukraine, has weakened both the company and the regime. 

The short timeline can explain why Shah left no written messages explaining his action. But it does seem likely that he did so with in-flight radio messages, which helps to explain the curious way the authorities at first tried to mislead efforts to search for the missing plane. They have also tried hard to kill any suggestion that Shah had a grudge against the regime.

Since then events have helped substantiate those grudges. In a bid to escape charges of diverting US$700 million worth of funds from the national development fund he controlled, the prime minister, Najib Razak, fired his deputy prime minister, the attorney general and four other ministers.

Critics were threatened with sedition charges – a weapon often used by the regime and which may have helped suppress local speculation about Shah’s motives and actions immediately after the plane’s disappearance. 

Both the US and UK have shown they are not happy with the latest developments in Malaysia’s continuing political scandals. It may be only a matter of time before they begin to look more closely at just what did happen to Flight MH370.

Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat and longtime resident in Japan. A Japanese translation of this article will appear on