The Straits Times carried a scripted interview of Xavier Justo, the 1MDB whistleblower, who was then jailed in Thailand, according to a report published by The Edge Singapore.
But last week, after the Najib Razak government was ousted, Justo gave an interview to The Edge.
In the interview, Justo said that he was blackmailed by former PetroSaudi executives into, amongst other things, giving the interview to Straits Times Bangkok-based reporter Nirmal Ghosh, which was scripted.
Justo also said the interview was forced on the Swiss whistleblower and that it was part of a blackmail by former PetroSaudi executives.
The Edge Singapore published a 24-page pullout of the Edge Malaysia’s Investigative reports on 1MDB. It is accessible for download on The Edge Singapore’s website.
In the special edition of The Edge Malaysia, the publisher of The Edge Media Group Ho Kay Tat wrote that he had asked about the “hidden hand” behind the ST story and the interview with Justo.
“I said it was remarkable that while Malaysian police were not allowed (at the time) to see Justo, ST’s Bangkok-based reporter Nirmal Ghosh had access to him in a high-security prison.
“ST’s foreign news editor Audrey Quek issued a statement to deny that any hidden hands were involved.
“A top Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) executive sent me a WhatsApp message to rebut my allegation and said the story was an example of “enterprising” newsgathering and that Nirmal had worked on it for weeks.”
But Justo’s denial that he was a willing participant in the interview and that the reporter had written the story from scripted materials that came from the ex-strongmen of PetroSaudi, puts SPH’s responses into question.
After Najib’s government was ousted in the May 9 elections, Justo was invited to meet Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Ho wrote: “I caught up with Justo and, among other things, he narrated to me the interview with ST and the events leading to it.
“He said after he was arrested and charged for blackmail, he was kept in a lockup with 50 others, and everyone was virtually sleeping on top of each other. After a week, he was told he had a choice either to cooperate or expect to languish in jail for many years.
“He was also told he would be out in less than a year if he agreed to make confessions that were prepared for him. He also had to give an interview to a reporter from the ST. Justo named the hidden hands as PetroSaudi director Patrick Mahony; and Paul Finnegan, a UK private detective who disguised himself as a Scotland Yard detective.”
Justo told Ho that a list of 50 questions was handed to him by the ex-PetroSaudi guys.
“They handed to me a list of 50 questions and answers that I was supposed to use for my interview just before I saw him (Nirmal).
“Everything I told him was prepared by them (Mahony and Finnegan) and I was also told not to bring up the name Jho Low,” Justo says.
Why the “hidden hands” decided to use Nirmal and ST for the Justo “confession” to spin a fake narrative is open to speculation, asked Ho.
In April 2016, ST ran three headline stories — “1MDB leak deal: Ex-PetroSaudi exec sues The Edge owner in Singapore court”, “Media tycoon Tong Kooi Ong seeks to strike out Justo’s reply to defence papers” and “KL tycoon fails in bid to strike out reply by ex-PetroSaudi exec”.
These articles were related to a suit filed by Justo via a Singapore lawyer, Suresh Damodara, who was taking instructions from Swiss lawyers on behalf of Justo.
“As a former correspondent of SPH, I did not want to prolong the argument with my former colleagues and bosses (at ST), although I was confident I was right.
“We had our hands full — Tong and I had to give statements to Malaysian police as we were being investigated for being part of an alleged plot to bring down a democratically elected government.
“Our two titles in KL —The Edge weekly and The Edge Financial Daily — were suspended, although the courts subsequently reversed the suspension. I suggested that the ST bosses find out more from Nirmal about the people who arranged the interview with Justo. Whether they ever did so, I don’t know,” wrote Ho.
Justo was released after being granted a royal pardon last year and had maintained his silence until March this year when he met the press in Switzerland after giving long depositions to the Swiss Attorney-General about 1MDB/PetroSaudi transactions and what had happened to him in Bangkok.
Concurrently, while he was in the Thai prison, Justo had “started” a lawsuit in Singapore through Swiss Lawyers seeking the return of two data drives with the 1MDB material, and for any copies of the material to be destroyed.
The Suit was eventually dropped. ST does not appear to have reported on the Suit being dropped.
Justo, in his interview, confirms he didn’t start the Suit:
“I didn’t understand the Suit. I was just given documents to sign. They told me I had to do it if I wanted an early release”.