Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak,. Pic: AP.

Utusan’s claims of US role in MH370 disappearance aren’t the paper’s first wild charges, reports Asia Sentinel

Utusan Malaysia, the Kuala Lumpur-based Malay-language broadsheet newspaper that Sunday accused the CIA of having a hand in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, has a long history of heated invective as the attack dog for its owner, the United Malays National Organization, the country’s biggest political party.

It is a publication that could be simply dismissed because of its often-irresponsible diatribes. But presumably it is the mouthpiece for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the party president. And from his standpoint, the story had to be an utter disaster. US President Barack Obama is due to visit Malaysia sometime over the next few weeks, a visit that Najib, whose popularity is fading, needs to prop him up.

There has been no public reaction in the United States. However, certainly Washington would be less than amused by the story, which accused the US of engineering the plane’s disappearance in order to disturb the growing relationship between Malaysia and China. One source close to the government last week told Asia Sentinel the US has been instrumental in helping Malaysia behind the scenes, providing technological and forensic help from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other organizations in the search for the missing Boeing 777-200, which disappeared on March 8 into the Indian Ocean.

The paper targets a domestic audience and has traditionally felt it could indulge in any necessary rhetoric to help preserve loyalty to the party. However, over the past three to four years, it has veered into strident invective. In 2011, the company drove senior journalist Hata Wahari, then the president of the National Union of Journalists, out of the paper after he complained about its agenda and urged it to go back to its traditional role of presenting unbiased news to the public.

Now, it is reaping more unfavorable publicity and runs the danger of once again affecting international relations because of the perception that is has official standing. But Najib, according to one senior source close to the party, has lost control of the Board of Directors and the editors and has been unable to rein them in despite the fact that his own press secretary sits on the board.

Earlier, the newspaper accused Indonesia of conspiring with the United States to hide the missing airliner after radar communication was lost over the gulf of Thailand. The Indonesian online news portal Merdeka.com quoted the senior officer for foreign affairs at Indonesia’s Defense Ministry, Sumardi Brotodiningrat, as saying the allegation was “funny” and that his country was already doing its best to assist Kuala Lumpur in the search.

Najib already faces strained relations with the United States over the conviction on appeal of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a favorite of many US politicians and financier George Soros, among others, on what were obviously trumped up charges of sodomy. According to several sources including the purported victim’s father, the charges were cooked up in the prime minister’s office. The country is also facing criticism over confiscation of Christian bibles that use the word “Allah” to denote God and other issues.

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