KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — The High Court here ordered the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) to free N. Tharmendran today, ruling the air force was unlawfully detaining the former airman accused of stealing two fighter jet engines.
Tharmendran, 42, had been arrested by RMAF provost marshals outside the Shah Alam court complex on November 25 and kept in detention since.
He was being held for alleged desertion after attending a court hearing at the Shah Alam High Court in a bid to have a charge against him dropped.
Today, judge Datuk Su Geok Yiam ruled that the arrest was lawful but said the airman’s detention at the Batu Cantonment Camp was not.
According to Section 174 (4) of the Armed Forces Act, any person in custody in pursuance of this section shall, “as soon as practicable and in any case within twenty-four hours (excluding the time of any necessary journey) be produced before a magistrate”.
The former sergeant had filed a writ a day after his detention, naming Batu Cantonment Camp commandant Lt-Colonel Mohd Razif Ramli, RMAF chief Gen Tan Sri Rodzali Daud and the Defence Ministry as respondents.
Tharmendran’s lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad told reporters that once the court order was issued today, the lawyers would head to the Batu Cantonment Camp to immediately secure Tharmendran’s release.
“I am very, very, happy. Tomorrow I’ll be celebrating Thaipusam with my son,” the ex-airman’s father N. Nagarajah told reporters.
The judge had initially issued a habeas corpus writ for the applicant to be in court for his release, but later amended her ruling for immediate release, at the request of Tharmendran’s lawyer, in time to celebrate Thaipusam with his father.
She pointed out, however, that the court has no jurisdiction to prevent Tharmendran from being re-arrested after his release.
Later, Amer urged the RMAF to confront Tharmendran in court if it continued to have issues with the latter, and not resort to arrests and detentions.
Tharmendran’s next court date for the theft charges is on June 14, at the PJ Sessions Court.
N. Surendran, also Tharmendran’s lawyer, had appealed as a PKR vice-president, for the government and the RMAF to “leave this family alone” and to stop putting pressure on the former air force sergeant.
Tharmendran is accused of abetting Mohamad Shukri in the theft of two F5-E jet engines at the Material Processing Shed, Matra 1 warehouse, at the RMAF base in Sungai Besi on April 30, 2008.
Tharmendran and company director K. Rajandran Prasad were jointly charged in the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court on January 6, 2010.
Mohamad Shukri has yet to be charged with any offence.
Tharmendran is accused of stealing the engines in December 2007 at the Subang RMAF air base.
He was arrested on September 1, 2009, 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.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak 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, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, had claimed that it was an inside job.