Two passengers who boarded missing Malaysia Airlines flights MH370 were not "Asian-looking" but resembled footballer Mario Balotelli, the country's civil aviation chief has told a news conference.
Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told journalists in Kuala Lumpur that CCTV footage revealed what the two suspect passengers looked like, before referring to the Italian footballer.
The comment prompted laughter at the news conference, but has sparked anger on social media.
V. Distasteful moment in #Malaysia crash press briefing-stolen passport holders not Asian looking,but 'like Balotelli'; media all laughing.— Brendan May (@bmay) March 10, 2014
I'm pretty sure Balotelli doesn't appreciate the comparison.— Sebastian Su (@Sebastian_su) March 10, 2014
According to The Guardian, a reporter had asked Rahman to say “roughly” what the two men looked like.
He replied “Do you know a footballer by the name of Balotelli?".
TOP STORIES TODAY
Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, the Inspector General of Police Tan, added that one man had been identified through CCTV footage.
"I can confirm that he is not a Malaysian, but cannot divulge which country he is from yet," he said, according to Malaysia's The Star.
He added that the man was not from China and there was no verification of a Chinese militant group claiming responsibility for the missing plane.
Earlier it was revealed that five people who checked in but failed to board the Malaysia Airlines flight are now under investigation by intelligence agencies.
According to the airline, the five never boarded the flight, but their baggage was removed.
Sightings of debris from a Vietnamese plane has now been discounted as evidence of a crash, as has an oil slick, which tests have shown was a type used by ships in the cargo-heavy sea.
The two men using the stolen passports are said to have booked flights onward to Europe, which means they did not need Chinese visas and avoided the additional scrutiny that comes from visa application, ABC news reported.
A European diplomat in Kuala Lumpur told the channel that the city was a hub for illegal migrants.
"You shouldn't automatically think that the fact there were two people on the plane with false passports had anything to do with the disappearance of the plane," the diplomat said.
"The more you know about the role of Kuala Lumpur in this chain, the more doubtful you are of the chances of a linkage."
Fears are growing the plane may never be found, as authorities said they had intensified the search, involving 46 ships and 34 planes from nine countries.