RMAF arrests ex-airman in engine theft case for deserting
SHAH ALAM, Nov 25 — The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) today surprisingly arrested former air force Sergeant N. Tharmendran, who is already facing charges of stealing two fighter jet engines on April 30, 2008.
His lawyer N. Surendran said RMAF arrested Tharmendran, 42, outside the Shah Alam High Court at 11.45am and accused him of deserting the force although his services were terminated last May 28.
Surendran claimed the arrest was to stop Tharmendran (picture) from revealing details of the theft, which he claimed trial. The High Court had earlier set December 17 for a decision on Tharmendran’s application to strike out the charge for the theft of two fighter jet engines.
“I told them that Tharmendran is a civilian and the air force had no right to arrest him. But according to Air Force Provos Marshall Lt-Col Mohd Razif Razak, Tharmendran had been classified as a deserter for missing work since September,” he said.
“This is clearly contempt of court. The arrest is unlawful as my client is a civilian who had left the force. I will hold the Defence Ministry and air force liable for this,” the human rights lawyer said.
He added that he will file a habeas corpus application this afternoon apart from seeking contempt of court proceeding against the RMAF.
Surendran said he was told by the Mohd Razif that his client would undergo a medical examination and would be detained at the RMAF Batu Cantonment centre.
Tharmendran is accused of abetting Senior Airman Mohamad Shukri Mohamad Yusop in the theft at the Material Processing Shed, Matra 1 warehouse, at the air force base in Sungai Besi in 2008. Mohamad Shukri has yet to be charged for any offence.
Surendran said his client was just outside the court compound when the airmen approached his client and arrested him in front of his father N. Nagarajah.
The RMAF later confirmed that it arrested Tharmendran as he has failed to turn up for duty after paying his bail on September 6.
The Mindef Corporate Communication Unit said Tharmendran was still in active service and his absence was an offence under the Armed Forces Act 1972.
Surendran, however, pointed out that Tharmendran’s contract of service was not renewed since its expiry on May 28 this year.
“His contract expired on May 28, 2010. No renewal (of contract) was signed by him,” Surendran told The Malaysian Insider.
“From June onwards, no salary was paid too,” he added.
Surendran also said he would seek contempt of court proceeding against Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, besides RMAF chief General Datuk Seri Rodzali Daud.
“I hold the chief of the air force responsible for this. I will cite him and the minister of defence for contempt of court,” said the human rights lawyer.
Surendran further accused Ahmad Zahid of trying to prevent Tharmendran from revealing the truth.
“There seems to be a serious attempt to prevent Tharmendran from revealing what he knows in court,” said Surendran.
“I do not believe that the air force would go to this extent of hounding and harassing him (Tharmendran). I suspect the minister of defence is behind this,” he added.
Earlier, Tharmendran had claimed that four RMAF officers had visited his parents’ house in Seremban on July 16 to abduct him.
He had also claimed that several air force men unconnected with his trial were seen waiting outside the courtroom at his July 19 hearing.
Surendran expressed his concerns for Tharmendran’s safety as he had been allegedly tortured by the air force.
“I’m very concerned about his safety at the hands of the air force because he’s been tortured by them once before,” he said.
Tharmendran previously claimed to have been tortured by two “majors” who sought to force a confession that he had stolen the jet engines.
He further alleged that about 30 to 40 others had been similarly tortured as he could hear their screams during his confinement at the air force base.
Tharmendran had said that he was made to wear a crash helmet and was hit with a cricket bat and a golf club three to four times a day.
He was also allegedly dragged, stripped down to his underwear, and thrown into a freezing cold room and made to admit, repeatedly, that he was guilty.
Today, Surendran said he would attempt to reach Tharmendran to obtain his signature for an affidavit in support of the habeas corpus application.
“I’m trying to see if I can get access to Tharmendran to get him to sign the affidavit, supporting the application for habeas corpus,” said the lawyer.
“We hope to file it by tomorrow,” he added.
Tharmendran and company director K. Rajandran Prasad were jointly charged in the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court on January 6 in connection with the theft of the missing F5-E jet engines.
Tharmendran is accused of stealing the engines in December 2007 at the Subang RMAF air base.
He was arrested on September 1 last year, and if convicted faces up to 10 years’ jail and a fine.
Rajandran is accused of disposing of the engines on April 30, 2008.
The theft was a major embarrassment to the government following reports later that the country’s first submarine — KD Tunku Abdul Rahman — could not dive in tropical waters.
The prime minister had vowed that there would be no cover-up in the high-profile case which occurred during his tenure as defence minister while the current minister, Ahmad Zahid, had claimed that it was an inside job.