Over the past few days, I attended several Xmas parties and quickly became an aviation expert - everybody talked about the missing F-5E jet engines.
The joke, of course, was that "Malaysia Boleh" (Malaysia can do it), the national slogan, was amended to "Malaysia Apa Pun Boleh" (literally, Malaysia anything also can do).
In two of the parties, there were some foreigners around and I was not sure whether to feel proud or ashamed of what had happened - two Northrop F5 jet engines went missing from an RMAF base.
I - or any other Malaysian - could either feel proud because Malaysians could pull off a heist that can be as good as any Hollywood script or feel ashamed because Malaysia is now in danger of becoming a banana republic. Previously such heists could only be done in some African or South American nation.
Looks like Malaysians have come of age and joined the ranks of Africans and South Americans.
The hot topic of discussion was two General Electric J85 engines with afterburners that were reported missing after an audit was carried out.
Everyone talked about how jet engines could somehow be dismantled and smuggled out of an airbase, which is supposed to be a high-security area, and taken to some port and shipped out. There were lots of conspiracy theories - high-ranking air force officers had to be involved. How else can two jet engines be smuggled out of an air base without someone with authority giving the green light?
The Customs Department had to be involved - how else can jet engines (which are military equipment) be cleared for export?
Someone suggested that the culprits could have declared them as turbines from Tenaga Nasional to be sent overseas for servicing. Everybody laughed.
The J85 engines were shipped to another country before being transshiped to Argentina.
According to wikipedia, the J85 engine weighs from 300 to 500 pounds (140 to 230kg) depending on model. Its length is 45.4 – 51.1 inches (depending on accessory equipment installed) and its diameter is 17.7 inches.
So the engine is not that big or heavy - four strong men and a forklift can do the job of removing it and lifting it onto a lorry. A nice crate about the size of one containing a six-foot tall Christmas tree would suffice to export it in.
Perhaps it was declared to the Customs as a hitech Christmas tree?
How the amazingly unbelievable theft was carried out is one issue.
The cops are now apparently re-investigating the case.
What is more vital is the political cost - the jet engines were stolen in 2007 when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was still the Defence Minister.
Obviously the Pakatan Rakyat politicians would exploit this issue to the maximum especially when there is talk now that the next general election could be held in 2011 which is just two years and a couple of days from now.
Najib would have to ensure there is no cover up otherwise the Opposition leaders would have a gala time whacking him and the people would crack even more jet engine jokes.
The fact that reports of the theft surfaced two years after the incident has only led to more mumblings of a cover up among the people.
Malaysians already do not trust the government very much - this jet engine scandal will make the situation even worse especially if the investigations are not transparent or are shoddy and if only a couple of corporals and lance-corporals are arrested.
Najib has to deal with this scandal with great care.