In an interview with The Telegraph, he said that he had personally authorised the installation of “one of the most sophisticated radar” systems in the world, based near the South China Sea and covering Malaysia’s mainland and east and west coastlines, when he was the country’s finance minister in 1994.
It was “not only unacceptable but not possible, not feasible” that the plane had not been sighted by the Marconi radar system immediately after it changed course. The radar, he said, would have instantly detected the Boeing 777 as it travelled east to west across “at least four” Malaysian provinces.
Mr Anwar said it was “baffling” that the country’s air force had “remained silent”, and claimed that it “should take three minutes under SOP (standard operating procedure) for the air force planes to go. And there was no response.”
He added: “We don’t have the sophistication of the United States or Britain but still we have the capacity to protect our borders.”
It was “clearly baffling”, he said, to suggest that radar operators had been unable to observe the plane’s progress.
A Malaysian soldier at Kuala Lumpur International Airport reads messages about the missing Malaysia Airlines plane (AP)
He said the families of the 153 Chinese victims on board were right to demand information from the Malaysian government, which had permitted a multi-national search operation to spend a week searching in what it must have known was the wrong place.
“Why didn’t we alert the Chinese, the Vietnamese that the operation should cease in the South China Sea and let them spend millions on search and rescue in a place that they know fairly well cannot be the site of the plane?”
As hope fades of recovering the plane’s black box before its batteries start to fail – which could be as early as Monday - Mr Anwar said it was “at the least, incompetence” on the part of the Malaysian government that it is still not known what happened to the plane, but there was also a deliberate “intention to suppress key information”.
“Unfortunately the manner in which this was handled after the first few days was clearly suspect,” he said. “One fact remains. Clearly information critical to our understanding is deemed missing.
“I believe the government knows more than us. They have the authority to instruct the air force … or Malaysia Airlines. They are privy to most of these missing bits of information critical to our understanding of this mysterious disappearance of MH370.”
Mr Anwar indicated that it was a possibility that officials on the ground were complicit in what happened on the plane.
However, he later added that “the realm of possibilities is so vague, I mean, anything can have happened”, adding: “Whether they (the authorities) are complicit in a terrorist act, I’m not in a position to comment.”
A source close to the government claimed that Mr Anwar was attempting to exploit the tragedy for political gain.
“The international media response, completely condemning Malaysia, is unfair. It’s been partly orchestrated by Malaysia’s opposition,” the source said.
“The government has a duty to the families not to release uncorroborated information that leads to false hope or wild goose chases which hamper the investigation. At every step, international investigation protocols have been followed.
“The situation is unprecedented. And the search has actually been handled well. The government is coordinating an enormous operation, and both the commanders on the ground and all the international investigators involved have been complimentary about Malaysia’s efforts.”
Relatives of Chinese passengers onboard the Malaysia Airlines MH370 stand near messages of well wishes (AP)
“Far from avoiding questions or withholding information, since day one the Malaysian authorities, including ministers, military chiefs, the department for civil aviation and Malaysia Airlines have made themselves available to the media daily. As soon as information has been corroborated, it has been released.”
Malaysian authorities did not respond officially to requests for comment on Mr Anwar’s accusations, but have previously accused him of politicising the crisis.
Efforts to recover the plane in the southern Indian Ocean, more than 1,000 miles off the coast of Perth, continued on Thursday night over a search area roughly the size of Poland. A British Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine is helping to hunt for wreckage, including the black box – before it stops emitting pings.
A member of the Australian team continues the search in the Indian Ocean (EPA)
Mr Anwar, 66, was once deputy prime minister in Malaysia’s ruling coalition, which has governed the country since independence from Britain in 1957.
However, after falling out with the country’s leaders, he was charged with sodomy, imprisoned twice and beaten in custody. He now leads a pro-democracy coalition of parties that lost last year’s election despite winning over 50 per cent of the popular vote amid allegations of widespread corruption by the government.
Mr Anwar was convicted for sodomy, an offence under Malaysian law, for the third time just hours before the flight went missing and is currently on bail pending appeal. He claimed that the government moved his court date to stop him standing in provincial elections.
Investigators and media have focused on the plane’s pilot, Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a passionate supporter of Mr Anwar’s pro-democracy opposition coalition, despite there being no evidence against him.
Reports have claimed that Capt Zaharie was a “fanatic” who could have hijacked the plane in despair at the latest setback to the opposition leader.
A graphic showing the north-westerly view of the search area (Geoscience Australia, Dr Beaman, James Cook University)
However, both Mr Anwar and Capt Zaharie’s family have strongly denied any such possibility.
“After personally having been subjected to such unjust accusations, I strongly feel that you should not cast aspersions against people until you have evidence to support it,” he said.
“If you say or suggest that the pilot may have been involved, what about the concealing (of information)? He could not have concealed the radar readings. He could not have instructed the air force to remain completely silent. Or the prime minister to remain completely silent. The investigations have got to be far-reaching and open.”
Describing him as an “ardent supporter”, Mr Anwar said he had had several exchanges with Capt Zaharie and that he “was nice, smart, articulate – but there was clearly a strong passion for justice. He is known to be very attached to the family, a family man.
Mr Anwar (AFP)
“To condemn a person because he is a supporter of democracy is totally unjustified. Having said that, there’s nothing stopping the police or the authorities from conducting an open and fair investigation into anybody – including the radar operators, the defence minister – why are they concealing this information?”
The disappearance of MH370 has placed the Malaysian government under unprecedented international scrutiny, with persistent criticism that the release of official information has been both inaccurate and inconsistent.
Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s defence and transport minister was criticised on Thursday for claiming that MH370’s disappearance was a “blessing in disguise” because its loss meant he now “understood the beauty of unity, the sweetness of having each other”.
Mr Anwar said that “to save the image of the country and to save the country”, an international committee should be established consisting of representatives of countries whose nationals were among the passengers, who included Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysians and Australians.