Former top executives under investigation following "irregularities" uncovered by the carrier's new management

Malaysian police have launched a criminal investigation into alleged "irregularities" involving former managers of Malaysia Airlines (MAS), which was renationalised in a controversial deal last year.

MAS confirmed on 18 February that it had asked police to investigate various cargo contracts, which had come under suspicion after audits by the carrier's new management.

"As this is now a police matter, we are not in a position to reveal further details," says MAS.

Local press have quoted MAS chairman Azizan Zainul Abidin as saying that since early January police have been investigating four former top executives of the carrier, one of them ex-chairman Tajudin Ramli.

Early in 2001 the Malaysian government took back control of the heavily indebted national airline from local tycoon Tajudin, who was once close to prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, but who is now rumoured to be out of favour with the country's leadership.

The renationalisation was controversial, as the government bought back a 29% stake - from a holding company headed by Tajudin - for 1.79 billion ringgit ($471 million), or 8 ringgit per share, more than double the market value.

Following the renationalisation, the government carried out a top-level shake-up at the airline that included the departure of Tajudin.

A wide-ranging restructuring is continuing in the hope that the carrier can reduce its more than $2 billion debt and return to profitability after years of losses. MAS is on course to report its fifth consecutive year in the red for the 12 months ending 31 March.

According to state-backed local media, police have already interviewed around a dozen former and current senior managers, and Tajudin will be called in for questioning soon. The investigation reportedly centres on deals involving freighter aircraft and European cargo contracts.

Source: Flight International