A whole slew of local and international media organisations, operating in Malaysia and Singapore, may be called up by police for publishing articles citing documents allegedly falsified by former PetroSaudi International employee Xavier Andre Justo – who has been detained on blackmail charges.
The police probe will most likely focus on media outfits which had cited sources in articles that attacked PetroSaudi and 1Malaysia Development Bhd, claiming corrupt practices had taken place at these two firms.
Other firms which had their reputations questioned by various media outlets – based on supposed “leaked” documents – include BSI Bank Ltd, Bank Negara Malaysia and its counterpart Monetary Authority of Singapore, plus auditors KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young.
The documents originally appeared on a UK-based blog Sarawak Report, run by whistleblower Clare Newcastle Brown – who also wrote an open letter defending Justo.
The documents sparked a wave of allegations against 1MDB, which were used as political ammunitions by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and several senior opposition leaders including Tony Pua and Rafizi Ramli.
Initial investigations by international cyber-security firm, Protection Group International indicate the stolen documents had been tampered with before subsequently appearing on Sarawak Report – raising questions as to the veracity of the allegations against 1MDB.
While a sweeping police probe has yet to be initiated, blogger Din Turtle has already noted a likely defence of “being fooled” could possibly be claimed by some of the media outlets – which had liberally attacked the parties named above despite lacking independent corroborative evidence.
But such a defence may not deter police probes – likely to see the media firms as having abetted Justo, similar to what took place in the wake of the Wikileaks disclosures in many jurisdictions around the globe.
With regard to blackmail charges made by Thai police against Justo, the likelihood of a multinational probe – which will include media outlets – is expected to cover Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, UK and also Switzerland as the last two are countries where Justo was in the employ of PetroSaudi between 2009 and 2011.
Given that international audit firms have also had their reputations dragged through the mud, media houses with a global footprint will also likely be part of police probes in the six countries involved so far.
Given its past reputation of cracking down on media houses which touched on various sensitivities, Singapore police will be in the spotlight on which media organisations are spared, if at all – given that the reputation of the island state’s de facto central bank has been placed in question.
Malaysian media outlets and other portals claiming to be reporting on Malaysian affairs will possibly face police grilling to justify the now-discredited attacks against 1MDB and chances are there may be other repercussions too.
While it is still early days, some of the media outlets in Malaysia and Singapore may find their publishing licences suspended or be imposed fines – penalties that may also extend to international media operating in these jurisdictions.