Ex-PetroSaudi employee says he was never paid what prominent Malaysian businessman promised him. Nirmal Ghosh Indochina Bureau Chief In Bangkok reports:
Swiss national Xavier Andre Justo – who is now in jail in Thailand in connection with trying to blackmail his former employer, PetroSaudi, which is entangled in a huge scandal involving the Malaysian government – has claimed that he was promised US$2 million (S$2.7 million) in exchange for data he stole from his former employer.
He also told The Straits Times in a prison interview that he was never paid what he was promised by a prominent Malaysian businessman. Justo claimed a deal was reached in Singapore in February on the sale of the documents, which was followed by lengthy discussions on how he would be paid.
The group of people he met in Singapore to negotiate the sale of the data were named in a 22-page confession Justo made to Thai police. He showed a copy of the confession to The Straits Times.
“I tried to open an account in Singapore, to have the money paid directly from (the buyer’s) account,” Justo said. “DBS Bank refused, I don’t know why. After that I opened an account in Abu Dhabi in my own personal name which was refused by (the buyer) because it had my name on it.”
“Then I tried to use my company account in Hong Kong and he said the same, after that it was through a Luxembourg company and then again (the buyer) refused and after that Clare Brown took the lead,” he said.
He was referring to Ms Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the Malaysian-born British-based editor of the Sarawak Report, which over the past year has made astonishing claims about the misappropriation of billions at state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose advisory board is headed by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Justo claimed the buyer also “offered to pay me by cash”.
He said: “So I was supposed to go to Singapore every week or every other week to receive an envelope with a few thousand or tens of thousands, and repeat this process for months until the final amount will have been paid. And again I refused.”
Justo echoed what Thai police said last week, that his confession was backed up by documents including a record of his WhatsApp conversations with the buyers.
“All of what is written in my confession, most of it is proven by e-mail conversations, WhatsApp messages I have had with (them).”
Ms Rewcastle-Brown had agreed to receive the US$2 million from the buyer and send him US$250,000 a month for consultancy services, he claimed.
“I don’t know if she received the money or not, (because) I was arrested,” he said. “I have no idea.”
Contacted by The Straits Times, Ms Rewcastle-Brown rubbished the allegations as “bunkum”.
“What I have presented on 1MDB and has been clarified by The Edge and corroborated by several other official sources is a coherent explanation of events, versus the dodging, changing stories of 1MDB,” she said. The Edge is a Malaysian daily whose chief executive officer, Mr Ho Kay Tat, was questioned by Malaysian police yesterday over articles it published related to 1MDB.
On Monday, in a note published on the front page of his daily, Mr Ho said the newspaper had “a public duty to find and report the truth”.
“We were not involved in any theft, we did not pay anyone, and we did not tamper (with) any of the e-mails and documents we were given,” he added.
He also said the newspaper was handing over to Malaysian government investigators printed documents and the hard disk that contains bank transfers and statements linked to the 1MDB scandal.
Justo, who gave the interview across a table in a small office inside the sprawling Bangkok Remand Prison, also claimed that the group he had met in Singapore – including Ms Rewcastle-Brown – had tampered with the data he had given them.
“I gave the original documents without any kind of alteration,” he claimed. “I can say that I gave those documents to two groups of people,” he added. One was Ms Rewcastle-Brown and “her IT guy” and the other was the Malaysian businessman and his colleague. The Straits Times is not naming the businessman as well as his colleague pending their response to the latest allegations.
He alleged that those he met had talked about using the documents “to try to bring down the Malaysian government”, adding that they also referred to plans to “modify the documents”.
Refuting vehemently these allegations, Ms Rewcastle-Brown said Justo was “full of untruths.”
She said: “Why would I wish to alter anything? If I had, why haven’t 1MDB and PetroSaudi brought out the evidence of such altering in all of the last five or so months?”
Thai police arrested the tattooed Justo, who has a wife and a nine-month-old son, currently in Switzerland, on June 22 at his spacious residence on the resort island of Koh Samui.
Justo, a former head of IT at the London office of PetroSaudi, has admitted that he had stolen company data – some 90 gigabytes worth – when he left in 2011.
He said he asked PetroSaudi for more money in 2013 but it turned him down. Subsequently, through a contact in Geneva with connections in Malaysia, he was introduced to Ms Clare Rewcastle-Brown, whom he later met in Bangkok at the Plaza Athenee hotel and in Singapore at the Fullerton Hotel. In Singapore, she was accompanied by the others named in his confession.
Justo, 48, was clean-shaven, looking well and composed. He was clad in a light blue cotton prison issue shirt and darker blue shorts. Looking over his reading glasses, he showed The Straits Times his confession, written densely in capital letters over 22 pages. He said it had not been made under duress, and that he had been pleasantly surprised at how well he had been treated in the Bangkok prison.
Justo faces up to seven years in jail and a fine if found guilty of extortion. He was hoping for a lighter prison term in view of his confession, his lawyer Pranot Kalanuson told The Straits Times.
Thai police spokesman, Lieutenant-General Prawut Thavornsiri, said on Wednesday that Justo must be tried first in a Thai court on charges of blackmail and serve a jail term – if any – before he could be extradited, according to The Star newspaper in Malaysia. It quoted the spokesman as saying that police were seeking evidence against the Swiss national that would be submitted to the public prosecutors, possibly within this month.
Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar arrived in Bangkok yesterday to try to interview Justo.
• With reporting by Malaysia Correspondent Shannon Teoh