This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on March 13, 2023 - March 19, 2023
1MDB whistle-blower Xavier Justo has revealed in his book how he was coerced into giving scripted answers to The Straits Times (ST) journalist Nirmal Ghosh to refute exposés by The Edge and Sarawak Report on the multi-billion dollar scandal.
Justo was in a Bangkok jail at the time when his former boss at PetroSaudi International Patrick Mahony and British private investigator Paul Finnegan promised him freedom if he agreed to do as he was told, and that was to say that the information he gave to The Edge and Clare Rewcastle of Sarawak Report were tampered with and fake and that they had told him they wanted to topple the Malaysian prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
In the just-released book Rendezvous with Injustice, Justo writes: “Patrick told me during one of his visits in July (2015) that PetroSaudi had hired a top Swiss lawyer to defend me and handle the press. He said he had also arranged an interview with a journalist who was close to Najib Razak’s party and wrote for The Straits Times, a Singaporean daily broadsheet newspaper. Paul gave me a list of questions and their pre-prepared answers a day before the interview. I was again being forced to confess to the crimes I was charged with and clear PetroSaudi of any wrongdoing. Incidentally, the reporter involved would receive ‘Journalist of the Year’ award for his article about me, and was later promoted to be head of the paper’s Washington bureau.”
After the ST article was published on July 24, 2015, publisher of The Edge Ho Kay Tat refuted the contents and said there were hidden hands behind the move to damage the reputation of those who had exposed one of the world’s biggest ever financial thefts.
The then foreign editor of ST, Audrey Quek, responded by saying, “Our reporter in Bangkok, following up on this story, had for several days sought access to Justo and was eventually offered it by his lawyer. We know of no hidden hand behind our getting access to him.”
Through this episode in 2015-16, ST editors defended the newspaper’s reporting of 1MDB, which largely played down suggestions that a financial scandal had taken place. Things changed only after the US Department of Justice announced to the whole world on July 20, 2016, that it had initiated suits to seize assets and money stolen from 1MDB by corrupt officials. Then attorney general Loretta Lynch described the scandal as the biggest ever case of kleptocracy.
Justo also had to give scripted interviews to two Swiss journalists, and he recounted this in his book. “Following their tutorials, I was interviewed ... by two Swiss journalists. I had to incriminate myself, admit that I had stolen the data, and make various accusations against Clare, (Edge chairman) Tong Kooi Ong, Ho Kay Tat and the Malaysian opposition. I also had to attest that PetroSaudi was an excellent company and that money had been my only motivation.”
He was finally freed on Dec 20, 2016, after being granted a royal amnesty along with 150,000 other prisoners.
The theft of billions of dollars from 1MDB was masterminded by Jho Low, a Malaysian financier who is now a fugitive. It is estimated that he took US$1.42 billion, while almost US$800 million went to Najib’s bank accounts. Hundreds of millions of dollars more were given to co-conspirators in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng was sentenced to 10 years’ jail in New York on March 9 while his ex-boss Tim Leissner is awaiting sentencing for their roles in the looting. Najib himself is currently serving a 12-year sentence in Malaysia and has two ongoing 1MDB trials.
Wanted man Low is believed to be hiding in China.
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