Malaysian leaders suspected pilot in MH370 disappearance, says ex-Australian PM

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has claimed the "top levels" of the Malaysian government long suspected the vanishing of a plane almost six years ago was a mass murder-suicide by the pilot.

Mr Abbott was prime minister when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 carrying 239 people disappeared on March 8 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Australia, working on Malaysia's behalf, co-ordinated what became the largest search in aviation history, but it failed to find the plane before being ended in 2017.

Speaking in a Sky News documentary to air on Wednesday and Thursday, Mr Abbott said high-ranking Malaysian officials believed veteran pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah deliberately downed the jet.

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight
The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight (MoD/Crown Copyright/PA)

"My very clear understanding, from the very top levels of the Malaysian government, is that from very, very early on, they thought it was murder-suicide by the pilot," said Mr Abbott, who was PM from 2013 to 2015.

"I'm not going to say who said what to whom, but let me reiterate, I want to be absolutely crystal clear, it was understood at the highest levels that this was almost certainly murder-suicide by the pilot."

A Malaysian-led independent investigation report released in 2018 said the plane's course was changed manually, but did not name a suspect and raised the possibility of "intervention by a third party".

Investigators said the cause of the disappearance could not be determined until the wreckage and the plane's black boxes were found.

Malaysia has had a change of government since the plane's disappearance, after prime minister Mahathir Mohamad ousted the government led by Najib Razak, whose party had ruled Malaysia since its independence in 1957.

Tony Abbott with Najib Razak
Tony Abbott with Najib Razak (Paul Kane/AP)

The pilot's family has long denied he was suicidal. The 2018 investigative report said there was no evidence of abnormal behaviour or stress in the two pilots and none of the passengers had pilot training.

Mr Abbott said he did not believe conspiracy theories centred on the Malaysian government, which owns Malaysia Airlines.

"I've read all these stories that the Malaysians allegedly didn't want the murder-suicide theory pursued because they were embarrassed about one of their pilots doing this. I have no reason to accept that," he said.

The Australian-led search scoured 46,000 square miles of the southern Indian Ocean and cost 200 million Australian dollars (£100 million). A private hunt by Texas-based company Ocean Infinity later searched more than 37,000 square miles of sea.

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The disappearance of flight MH370, five years on
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The disappearance of flight MH370, five years on
A man writes on a message board for passengers, onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, during its fifth annual remembrance event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
A man takes a photo of debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 during its fifth annual remembrance event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
A woman attends the fifth annual remembrance event for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
Michelle Gomes, daughter of Patrick Gomes who was the in-flight supervisor onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, comforts her son Rafael Gomes during its fifth annual remembrance event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
Family members hold candles during the fifth annual remembrance event for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
Li Eryou, whose son Li Yanlin was on the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared on March 8, 2014, poses in front of a sign marking the number of days his son went missing, during a Reuters interview at his house in Handan, Hebei province, China March 1, 2019. Picture taken March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Joyce Zhou
Debris believed to belong to the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 are pictured in Putrajaya, Malaysia November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
Grace Nathan, whose mother was onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, displays debris believed to belong to MH370 before handing over to Malaysia's Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook in Putrajaya, Malaysia November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - FEBRUARY 3: Visitors write messages on the board during a commemoration event to mark the 5th anniversary of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on March 03, 2019. The Boeing 777 Malaysia Airlines MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014 while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 227 passengers and 12 crew. (Photo by Adli Ghazali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - FEBRUARY 3: Family members light candles to pay tribute to missing passengers during a commemoration event to mark the 5th anniversary of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on March 03, 2019. The Boeing 777 Malaysia Airlines MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014 while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 227 passengers and 12 crew. (Photo by Adli Ghazali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - FEBRUARY 3: Malaysian Minister of Transport, Anthony Loke (C) looks at the Wing flap found on Pemba Island, Tanzania which has been identified a missing part of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 through unique part numbers traced to 9M-MRO during a commemoration event to mark the 5th anniversary of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on March 03, 2019. The Boeing 777 Malaysia Airlines MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014 while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 227 passengers and 12 crew. (Photo by Adli Ghazali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 03: A volunteer from the Department Of Malaysia Ministry Home Affairs (RELA) stands guard near the debris wing flap part of Malaysia Airlines had found in Pemba Island, Tanzania display on the table during 5 Years of Remembrance for Malaysian Airlines MH370 event on March 3, 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Boeing 777-200 plane heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew went missing on March 8, 2014. According to Malaysias transport minister Anthony Loke, government is waiting for a fresh proposal from US exploration firm Ocean Infinity or any other interested party before resuming the search for ill-fated flight MH370, five years after tragedy the Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight still on mysery. (Photo by Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 3: Peoples take pictures of the debris wing flap part of Malaysia Airlines had found in Pemba Island, Tanzania display on the table during 5 Years of Remembrance for Malaysian Airlines MH370 event on March 3, 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Boeing 777-200 plane heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew went missing on March 8, 2014. According to Malaysias transport minister Anthony Loke, government is waiting for a fresh proposal from US exploration firm Ocean Infinity or any other interested party before resuming the search for ill-fated flight MH370, five years after tragedy the Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight still on mysery. (Photo by Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 03: The Malaysia Minister of Transport Anthony Loke speaks to the media at news conference during a 5 Years of Remembrance for Malaysian Airlines MH370 event on March 3, 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Boeing 777-200 plane heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew went missing on March 8, 2014. According to Malaysias transport minister Anthony Loke, government is waiting for a fresh proposal from US exploration firm Ocean Infinity or any other interested party before resuming the search for ill-fated flight MH370, five years after tragedy the Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight still on mysery. (Photo by Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 3: Debris from the wing flap part of Malaysia Airlines with an identification tag had found in Pemba Island, Tanzania display on the table during 5 Years of Remembrance for Malaysian Airlines MH370 event on March 3, 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Boeing 777-200 plane heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew went missing on March 8, 2014. According to Malaysias transport minister Anthony Loke, government is waiting for a fresh proposal from US exploration firm Ocean Infinity or any other interested party before resuming the search for ill-fated flight MH370, five years after tragedy the Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight still on mysery. (Photo by Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images)
Messages from loved ones to unaccounted for family members are seen on display during a memorial event ahead of the fifth anniversary of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in Kuala Lumpur on March 3, 2019. - The Malaysia Airlines jet vanished on March 8, 2014 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people onboard, most of them from China. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Debris that washed ashore in the western Indian Ocean has been confirmed as coming from the missing Boeing 777 and indicated a broad expanse of the ocean where the plane is likely to have crashed after running out of fuel.

Australia, Malaysia and China agreed in 2016 that an official search would only resume if the three countries had credible evidence that identified a specific location for the wreckage.

Mr Abbott believed a new investigation was warranted.

"Let's assume that it was murder-suicide by the pilot, and if there is any part of that ocean that could have been reached on that basis that has not yet been explored, let's get out and explore it," he said.

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