MH370 fraudster faces jail and lashes: 5 other disaster scams

Search for Flight MH370

Couple stole from flight MH370 victims in the months after the Malaysia Airlines plane vanished

LAST UPDATED AT 10:51 ON Thu 21 May 2015

A Malaysian man who stole more than £1,300 from the account of a missing MH370 passenger has been sentenced to four years in prison and three lashes of the cane.

Basheer Ahmad Maula Sahul Hameed, a 34-year-old mechanic, was convicted in April for withdrawing the cash from the account of Chinese victim Tian Jun Wei months after the plane disappeared.

Hameed's wife Nur Shila Kanan, a bank officer for HSBC, was also convicted for making illegal transfers and withdrawals of more than £15,000, using forged documents, cheating the bank supervisor and stealing money. A warrant was issued for her arrest after she failed to turn up to hear her sentence due to apparent sickness, reports The Star.

During the trial, the court heard that money had been transferred from three other Chinese and Malaysian victims into Tian's account before it was partly removed through ATM withdrawals at different locations across Kuala Lumpur. The judge said the couple's actions had "brought further pain to the families, who were already grieving over the loss of their loved ones".

Hameed and Kanan are not the first to exploit a tragedy to line their pockets:

False Katrina claim

Hurricane Katrina was one of the most devastating hurricanes in the history of the United States, killing around 1,000 people in Louisiana and 200 in Mississippi when it struck in 2005. Among the people to file claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency was a woman who asked for help to repair damage to her home in New Orleans, as well as medical and dental expenses. She also claimed her scooter had been stolen while she was taking shelter in the Superdrome, reported The Seattle Times. However, when it emerged that she was living in Washington State and had never been to Louisiana she was sentenced to 18 months in prison for fraud.

7/7 police fraud

After the 7 July 2005 suicide bombings in London, the Metropolitan Police sent two teams of officers up to Leeds as part of its investigation and paid for their accommodation. Four years later one of the officers, Det Con Daren Pooley, found himself in court on suspicion of making  a "quick profit" out of the force, reported the BBC. Through a third party, he managed to charge the Met Police a monthly rent of £1,950 when the actual rent for the flats was £650. He was jailed for three years for fraud.

Haiti earthquake scam

Following the Haiti earthquake that killed more than 160,000 people and displaced close to 1.5 million people in 2010, one con artist attempted to pass himself off as a United Nations rep to run a Haitian earthquake relief scam. Marc Payen, from Manhattan, used fake UN stationery to pocket funds intended to go towards medical and humanitarian efforts. He was convicted of two counts of grand larceny, forgery and criminal possession of a forged instrument and sentenced to serve between five and ten years in prison and to pay $17,179.05 in restitution, reported the New York Post.

Sandy Hook 'donations'

Just one week after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, a woman in New York began collecting donations online by posing as the aunt of one six-year-old victim. "We've set up a funeral fund for my brother," claimed Nouel Alba. "Anyone willing to make a donation can make one." After being exposed on US television she was arrested by the FBI and sent to prison for eight months for wire fraud and making false statements to the government, reported Today. The victim's real uncle described it as "disgusting behaviour".

MH17 Facebook profiles

After Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, online scammers immediately got to work on setting up fake Facebook pages using the names of victims. Each linked to a blog site full of pop-up adverts for online gambling and get-rich quick schemes, which served as distribution points for malware designed to hijack computers and steal personal information. At least three of the fake pages were set up in the names of young Australian children who were killed, reported the Canberra Times. Experts told the newspaper that such click-fraud schemes are now common in the wake of major events or disasters. While Facebook was quick to take them down, stopping the scams altogether would prove a much more challenging task.

Flight MH370: what will happen if the missing plane is found?

13 May

With poor weather conditions hampering the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, speculation has turned to what might happen if the plane is ever discovered.

More than 75 per cent of the original search zone in the southern Indian Ocean has been explored with no sign of the aircraft or any of the 239 people believed to have perished on board.

Investigators have now doubled the search zone to 120,000 sq km, but they have had to suspend the regular use of their autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) for the winter months.

This week, the Australian government announced that it had set aside an additional A$50m (£25m) to help cover the costs of the ongoing search for the missing plane. "The cost of this measure will be offset by financial contributions to the search from other countries," said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is coordinating the search. "The actual cost will depend on a number of factors, including the length of the search."

The discovery of a previously uncharted shipwreck has boosted confidence among officials that they will find the plane if it is resting in the search area.

The team spotted "multiple small bright reflections in a relatively small area of otherwise featureless seabed" at a depth of 3,900m. Further investigation using a high-resolution sonar scan found numerous items the size of cricket balls interspersed with a few larger items, the biggest of which was box shaped and around six metres in length. Analysis revealed this week that the debris was likely to be the wreck of a ship.

ATSB's Peter Foley, director of the operational search for MH370, described it as a "fascinating find" but said it was "not what we're looking for". However, he said the discovery "demonstrated that the systems, people and the equipment involved in the search are working well".

He added: "It's shown that if there's a debris field in the search area, we'll find it."

So what would happen next if they do?

One aviation expert has warned that the plane might have to be left on the ocean floor if it is found. Neil Hansford, who has more than 30 years of experience in the airline industry, told the Daily Express that the plane could be inaccessible if it is found in a deep abyss.

Last month, senior ministers from Malaysia, Australia and China met to discuss the next steps in the search and to agree the recovery arrangements if it is found.

Ministers said it was "critical" to have arrangements in place to enable a timely and effective response and said that they remained "committed to bring closure and some peace to the families and loved ones of those on board".

In the event that the aircraft is "found and accessible", evidence would be secured for investigation in accordance with Annex 13 to the Chicago Convention, they said.

This document provides the international requirements for aircraft accident investigations, they include studying the flight recorders and carrying out autopsies with the objective of preventing other disasters in the future.

Aviation law experts have said that Malaysia would likely retain authority of the investigation as it is the "State of Registry" of the aircraft, although the Malaysian government could delegate the inquiry to Australia, as it has done with the search.

"States whose citizens have suffered fatalities in an accident are also entitled to appoint an expert to participate in the investigation," according to the document.

The bulk of Air France flight 447, which crashed in stormy weather en route to Paris from Brazil in 2009, was not found until two years later. While parts of the wreckage and two bodies were found within days, the flight recorders did not turn up until 2011 and the search eventually ended with 74 bodies still missing.

The extensive search of the Atlantic was jointly financed by Air France and Airbus. After four unsuccessful search missions, the wreckage was eventually found just 6.5 nautical miles from the aeroplane's last known location. Deep sea divers only retrieved parts of the aircraft that "were useful to the investigation," leaving the rest of the wreckage on the seabed, according to the final report. The data and cockpit recorders were also recovered, providing crucial evidence about the aircraft's final moments, though some aviation experts still dispute what happened to the plane. 

MH370 officials throw cold water on Bay of Bengal theory

29 April

Australian officials co-ordinating the search for MH370 have cast doubt on a theory that the missing plane is in the Bay of Bengal.

Andre Milne, who reportedly works in military aviation technology, has been trying to crowdsource £1.3m to pay for his own investigation, claiming that the Boeing 777 has come to rest in the waters between Malaysia and India.

In a video appeal for funding, he says a wreckage currently lying in the Bay of Bengal needs to be investigated to rule out whether or not it is flight MH370.

He points to witnesses in the Maldives who claimed to have seen a Boeing 777 flying south past the islands before circling back over the lower Bay of Bengal on the night MH370 disappeared in March 2014. He has written to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to put forward his hypothesis.

But the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has said that any theories suggesting the aircraft was located to the north or significantly west of Sumatra "were not supported by known facts or careful analysis".

The bureau stopped short of cautioning against public donations to Milne, but told News Corp Australia that "the aircraft cannot be in Kazakhstan, Diego Garcia, the Maldives or indeed the Bay of Bengal".

ATSB Commissioner Martin Dolan said last week that the satellite handshakes leading searchers to the southern Indian Ocean were the most "solid piece of information" they had.

No trace of the plane has been found since it disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

But Dolan said this does not mean it landed anywhere other than the Indian Ocean.

"The likelihood of there being a lot of floating wreckage isn't high, and some of the possible floating wreckage would have become waterlogged by now, and the rest of it is likely to be mixed up with a whole lot of other stuff in one of those big gyres in the middle of the Indian Ocean," he said.


Flight MH370: search area to double if plane not found

16 April

The search area for missing flight MH370 will be doubled to 46,000 square miles – six times the size of Wales – if it is not found in the core target area currently being trawled.

Speaking in Kuala Lumpur today, ministers from Australia, China and Malaysia said the extended search could take up to a year in light of "adverse" weather conditions expected in the upcoming winter months.

The whereabouts of the Malaysia Airlines flight, which disappeared on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board, has become one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history.

Investigators are currently hunting for the wreckage on a rugged 23,000 square mile patch of sea floor, 1,000 miles west of Perth, Australia. The search, which has so far found no trace of the plane, is expected to finish next month.

In a joint statement, Australia's deputy prime minister Warren Truss, Malaysian minister of transport Liow Tiong Lai and Chinese minister of transport Yang Chuangtang said 60 per cent of the current search area had been explored.

"Should the aircraft not be found within the current search area, ministers agreed to extend the search by an additional 60,000 sq km to bring the search area to 120,000 sq km and thereby cover the entire highest probability area identified by expert analysis," they said.

Flight Global says the extended area would cover 95 per cent of MH370's final projected flight path.

"We're following the seventh arc, the seventh handshake and that is the flight path. We will extend north, south, east and west, expanding the area within the high priority area," said Liow.

The announcement comes after Captain Simon Hardy, a senior Boeing 777 captain with a major commercial airline, claimed to have pinpointed the location of the wreckage.

Hardy spent six months analysing the known MH370 data and concluded that the plane was intentionally landed on the Indian Ocean and sank intact just 20 nautical miles (37km) outside the current search area. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is leading the search, described his theory as "credible". 


MH370: Investigators 'to examine Germanwings connection'

27 March

Officials investigating the Germanwings plane crash are reportedly going to examine whether the co-pilot – who appeared to deliberately fly the aircraft into the French Alps – was inspired by the MH370 tragedy.

French prosecutors said yesterday that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had a "deliberate desire to destroy" the plane. The 27-year-old was "alone at the controls" and refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot as he intentionally put the plane into descent, killing all 150 people on board, they said.

"Investigators will now be looking to see if the apparently deliberate actions by the Germanwings co-pilot were inspired by any other recent disasters including the ongoing mystery of Malaysian Airlines MH370," says the Daily Telegraph.

The newspaper says there are "striking similarities" between this week's crash and some of the leading theories about Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in March 2014.

Several experts and former pilots have said that MH370 could only have swerved off its course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March due to sabotage.

Evidence to show what happened to MH370 is limited and circumstantial, but the "rogue pilot theory" has emerged as the most plausible explanation among several, said the New York Times, just before the first anniversary of the plane's disappearance.

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah has been identified by Malaysian police as the prime suspect, although his family have vehemently defended him.

Captain Simon Hardy, a senior Boeing 777 captain with a major commercial airline, spent six months analysing the known MH370 data and concluded that the plane was intentionally landed on the Indian Ocean and sank intact.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is leading the search, has since been in contact with Hardy to discuss his findings and has described his theory as "credible".

There are also "chilling similarities" between the Germanwings crash and the Mozambique Airlines flight TM470 disaster in November 2013, says the Telegraph.

Investigators said Captain Herminio dos Santos Fernandes locked himself inside the cockpit, ignored warning signals and did not allow his co-pilot back in moments before the plane crashed in the swamps of Namibia's Bwabwata National Park, killing all 33 people on board.


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