Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is rejecting what he calls a "desperate attempt" to link him to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Several recent reports suggest the missing plane's pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was an active member of Anwar's opposition People's Justice Party.
Speculation about Zaharie's involvement in the plane's disappearance intensified after Malaysian authorities said the jet was likely deliberately diverted.
Some foreign media reports suggest Zaharie hijacked the plane because he was angry about Anwar's sodomy conviction, which occurred hours before the plane took off.
But in a blog post, Anwar said casting aspersions on Zaharie's character or suggesting that his political leanings are to blame for the jet's disappearance are "reckless, insensitive ... (and) highly defamatory."
The Singapore-based Straits Times reported Tuesday that Anwar acknowledged the pilot is related to one of his in-laws and that the two have met on several occasions.
He said the rumors were "part of the routine character assassination campaign" against him by government and ruling party-controlled media.
Political Science Professor James Chin, a Malaysia expert at Australia's Monash University, told VOA he sees political motivations behind the accusations. "I think this is just political finger-pointing from the government side to try and divert the attention. I personally do not think there is any link between the missing plane, the pilot and Anwar Ibrahim," he stated.
Malaysian authorities have been repeatedly criticized for releasing incomplete or contradictory information about the massive, multinational search for the plane.
Chin said Anwar could serve as a useful distraction from this criticism. "I think Anwar is correct. There has been a lot of pressure on the Malaysian authorities. So stories like this linking him to the pilot are used to divert attention from the Malaysian authorities," he said.
Anwar has been critical of the government's handling of the search. In his blog post, he noted that "many questions have been raised regarding not just the competency of the authorities in the investigation, but also the sheer lack of transparency."
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Tuesday denied bringing Anwar's name into the airplane probe. At a daily press conference, he urged "all Malaysians to put differences aside and unite during this difficult time."
The 66-year-old Anwar's political career is a highly charged topic in Malaysia. On March 7, an appeals court overturned his acquittal on charges of sodomy, ruling he was guilty of having sex with a man who was then his aide.
Anwar, and many international and local human rights groups, say the charges are politically motivated and meant to keep him from gaining more power during upcoming elections. Sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison under a colonial-era law in Malaysia.
Chin said it is unfortunate that a nasty domestic political dispute has been brought into the discussion on the plane's disappearance, but insists that soon enough, "the plane will be found and this will all be forgotten."