Malaysian couple stole from bank accounts of missing MH370 passengers

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - While much of the world agonised over missing MH370 flight and the fate of the people on it, there were those who saw opportunity to make money.

That was what Malaysia's "Bonnie and Clyde" allegedly did.

Nur Shila Kanan and her mechanic husband Basheer Ahmad Maula Sahul Hameed, both 34, were accused of stealing RM110,643 (S$41,529) from four bank accounts belonging to the victims of MH370, in the Sessions Court in August last year.

The couple claimed trial to the 16 charges against them, haggled for a lower bail due to their lower income background, and then skipped town in January.

An arrest warrant issued against the pair was later withdrawn when they reappeared in court on Jan 13.

They were charged with stealing money from the accounts of two Chinese passengers, Ju Kun, 32, and Tian Jun Wei, 29, and two Malaysians, Hue Pui Peng, 66, and flight steward Tan Size Hiang, 46.

About two months after the Boeing 777-200ER vanished, Nur Shila, who worked as a bank officer at the HSBC branch in Jalan Lebuh Ampang here, was alleged to have used her position to transfer funds belonging to Ju, Tian and Tan into Hue's account via online transaction.

Nur Shila was said to have transferred RM35,000 from the accumulated sum in Hue's account into that of one Ali Faran Khan, and later used forged documents to apply for a new debit card in Hue's name.

Her husband Basheer allegedly used the card to withdraw the money from Hue's account from an ATM here.

Due to a withdrawal limit of RM5,000 per day, the money was believed to have been siphoned off over a period between May 15 and June 29 last year.

The bank discovered the fraud when a July audit found a large sum of money missing from the frozen accounts of people aboard MH370. The bank lodged a police report on Aug 2 following an internal investigation.

Kuala Lumpur Commercial Crime Investigation Department chief Asst Comm Izany Abdul Ghany said police were searching for Ali Faran who was alleged to have run off with the RM35,000 he withdrew from his account.

"We are confident of bringing him to justice soon, and we will not let up on this case," he promised.

Tan's wife, Elaine Chew, 36, said news of people stealing money from her missing husband's account aggravated an already traumatic year for her family. "How could they do such a thing to us?" she said when contacted.

Citing a recent report from Melbourne, Australia, where burglars broke into the home of a woman whose husband was also on the plane, Chew reckoned that "irresponsible people" were trying to take advantage of the next of kin of MH370 passengers and crew.

"Both cases came just after they announced we would be getting some compensation from Malaysia Airlines. How much more heartless can people be?" she lamented.

HSBC did not respond to The Star's request for an interview on the matter.

Last August, HSBC communications head Marlene Kaur said the bank had discovered the fraudulent withdrawals and lodged a police report.

"HSBC is deeply sorry for the incident and apologises to the families of our customers for the distress this will cause, and assures them there will be no losses on these accounts," she said.

In Beijing, Cheng Liping, the wife of stuntman Ju Kun, bizarrely believed it to be a distress call sent by those on board the missing plane.

"As soon as I heard about the case, I suspected it could be a message from the people of MH370," she said when reached.

Ju Kun was in Malaysia to work on Marco Polo, a Netflix series filmed at Pinewood Studios in Johor Baru. The 35-year-old was staying in Malaysia since February last year after he started work as the co-fight choreographer on the series.

On March 8, he flew on MH370 to go home to Beijing to see his two sons and collect work materials for Marco Polo.

Cheng said she was in no hurry to settle the issue for now.

"It's not necessary at the moment. Let's wait until the people (on board MH370) are found."