KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysia Airlines has sacked a steward for allegedly sexually assaulting a passenger who was scared of flying with the disaster-prone airline before any hearing into the incident had taken place, a union body said Thursday.
The crew member has been stuck in a detention centre at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport since August, after the passenger told French authorities that the steward has sexually assaulted her on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to the French capital.
The case is the latest setback for the struggling national carrier, which was struck by twin tragedies this year when one of its passenger jets went missing and another was shot down over conflict-torn east Ukraine.
Ismail Nasaruddin, president of the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia, said the 57-year-old steward was sacked by a letter on August 22 just two weeks after the purported incident took place.
“What Malaysia Airlines (MAS) did is a clear violation of natural justice. There has not been any hearing so far for the crew who is being held in Paris,” Ismail told AFP.
“MAS fired the crew based on the allegation,” he said. “They judged him guilty before the trial. This is injust.”
The Australian passenger complained to authorities about the incident after touchdown at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, saying she had told crew at the beginning of the flight about her apprehension of flying with the airline in the wake of the two disasters.
The steward sat beside her and sexually assaulted her under the pretext of “comforting” her, she said, according to a source close to the French probe.
Ismail urged French authorities to allow the MAS crew member to return home immediately if there was insufficient evidence since his wife and three children are under severe emotional and financial stress.
“We have to ensure this crew gets some justice. Why punish the crew when he is not found guilty?” he said.
Malaysia Airlines in a statement confirmed that the crew member was no longer an employee of the airline but declined further comment.
“Malaysia Airlines is not at liberty to comment on the matter as it is currently under the judicial purview of the authorities,” it said.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared mysteriously in March with 239 people aboard, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
No trace has been found and the airline was widely criticised for its handling of the crisis.
On July 17, MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, with 298 people killed.
The airline stands on the financial brink after the disasters.
State investment fund Khazanah Nasional won approval from minority shareholders last week to privatise the loss-making carrier.