A Malaysian court Wednesday charged an air force sergeant and a businessman with stealing two fighter jet engines which were apparently smuggled to South America.
The theft of the two engines from a military warehouse two years ago was publicized last month by a local newspaper, prompting opposition criticism that senior government or military figures may have been involved and the case covered up.
Royal Malaysian Air Force Sgt. N. Tharmendran pleaded not guilty in the court in central Selangor state to stealing the engines, said a court official, who declined to be named citing policy. The charge carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.
In the same court, Rajandra Prasad Kasy, director of a local company dealing in aeronautical products, pleaded not guilty to a charge of helping to conceal the engines for which he faces up to seven years in prison, said his lawyer, Pritam Singh.
The court set bail at 150,000 ringgit ($44,000) for each of the men, the court official said. The next court date is Feb. 11.
The engines, each worth 50 million ringgit ($14 million), were stolen while they were undergoing repairs, according to Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail. He has said the engines were shipped toward Argentina before being offloaded to another vessel bound for Uruguay.
The engines are for single-seat fighter and reconnaissance jets and Abdul Gani has declined to say where they are now.
The New Straits Times first reported the theft of one of the engines last month, fueling allegations of corruption. Lim Kit Siang, a senior opposition politician, has called for an inquiry into "rampant kleptocracy in Malaysia," expressing disbelief that low-ranking staff could pull off the theft.
He said Abdul Gani's claim that no senior military personnel were involved was hard to believe.