In unexpected statements Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has questioned the methodology behind Dutch investigators who produced what the West considers the authoritative report on the tragic shoot down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014 while flying over war-torn eastern Ukraine. He criticized that the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) seems "to be concentrated on trying to pin it on the Russians".
The Malaysian leader told reporters at the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club (FCCJ) in Tokyo on Thursday “They are accusing Russia but where is the evidence?” Mahathir said his country accepted that a "Russian-made missile" shot down its civilian airliner, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board, but that "You need strong evidence to show it was fired by the Russians."
He ultimately questioned the objectivity of the investigators in what major regional media described as a "jaw dropping speech".
Australia's prime state run news service ABC News noted the Malaysian PM's speech has sent shock waves through the region as it questioned everything Australia's own leaders have said. "From the very beginning we see too much politics in it," Mahathir said in reference to the official Dutch-led investigation.
A total of 38 Australians were killed in the Boeing-777 shoot down and crash, and the majority were Dutch nationals. The ABC report summarized of the "bombshell" charges leveled by PM Mahathir:
“Based on these findings, the only conclusion we can reasonably now draw is that Russia was directly involved in the downing of MH17,” Australia’s then-prime minister and foreign minister Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop said in a joint statement.
“The Russian Federation must be held to account for its conduct in the downing of MH17 over eastern Ukraine, which resulted in the tragic deaths of 298 passengers and crew, including 38 people who called Australia home.”
But in a bombshell speech to the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) on Thursday, Dr Mahathir was having none of it, accusing those who blamed Russia of scapegoating the nation for “political” reasons.
The Malaysian PM further went so far as to point to Ukrainian pro-government forces as being prime suspects: “It could be by the rebels in Ukraine; it could be Ukrainian government because they too have the same missile,” he said.
Interestingly, this has been Russia's position all along, which has already led some international media sources to suggest of the deeply contrarian Friday speech, "Dr Mahathir is known to enjoy a good conspiracy theory."
Mahathir further slammed the decision to exclude Malaysian investigators from the black box examination: “We may not have the expertise but we can buy the expertise. For some reason, Malaysia was not allowed to check the black box to see what happened,” he said.
“We don’t know why we are excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it and the idea was to find out how this happened but seems to be concentrated on trying to pin it to the Russians.”
The Malaysian PM's headline grabbing comments were made in English in response to a reporter's question:
He concluded that, “This is not a neutral kind of examination” — again questioning the basis on which suspicions of pro-Kiev forces appeared to have been superficially ruled out from the start.
“I don’t think a very highly disciplined party is responsible for launching the missile,” he added, according to Australia's ABC.
Russia has also rejected the conclusions of the European JIT report, saying the missile that struck the civilian airliner was manufactured in the Soviet Union in 1986, and was part of the Ukrainian army arsenal at the time of the shoot down.