Ex-PetroSaudi exec's lawyers quit

The Singapore lawyers for Xavier Andre Justo, the Swiss national embroiled in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) saga, have dropped themselves from acting any further, potentially sinking the high-profile High Court suit in Singapore which he filed last year.

A court order issued on Monday by Assistant Registrar N. Ramasamy approved the application by law firm Damodara Hazra to cease acting for both Justo and his firm Justo Consulting in the suit against The Edge media group owner Tong Kooi Ong and two others.

The court order also allowed the lawyers to serve notice on Justo by dispatch to the Bangkok prison where he is held.

Justo, 48, who worked for PetroSaudi International (UK) as an IT manager until 2011, is serving a three-year jail term in Thailand for blackmailing his former employer.

He had sued Mr Tong and two others, demanding the return of two data storage drives said to contain information about global oil services firm PetroSaudi and its business partner 1MDB.

Lawyer Clement Ong explains that since Justo is in a Bangkok prison, taking instructions from him directly would be "inexpedient and not reasonably possible". It is understood the withdrawal move without a lawyer replacement could mean the end of the Singapore court suit.

He had claimed to have handed over the two storage drives in Mr Tong's presence at a Fullerton Hotel meeting in February last year and alleged he was never paid the US$2 million (S$2.7 million) promised for them.

Mr Tong, defended by lawyers Doris Chia and Wong Wan Chee, had previously argued the claims showed no reasonable cause of action and should be struck off.

The court had also previously ordered Justo to place $50,000 into court as security for costs for the case to proceed.

In court papers filed to seek the discharge from representing Justo any further, lawyer Clement Ong explained that Justo's principal lawyers from Geneva-based law firm Lalive had told them they were no longer acting for Justo.

Lalive had appointed the Singapore lawyers to pursue Justo's case here, but since the former had dropped out, they (Singapore lawyers) would no longer be in a position to obtain further instructions on what to do in the case, he added.

Mr Ong explained that since Justo was in a Bangkok prison, taking instructions from him directly would be "inexpedient and not reasonably possible".

It is understood the withdrawal move without a lawyer replacement could mean the end of the Singapore court suit.

While Justo can continue to represent himself in the suit, the second plaintiff, which is Justo's company, would require counsel to represent its case under court rules.

Alternatively, lawyers for Mr Tong could apply to discontinue the suit if it remains inactive for more than a year or for other reasons.

A High Court case management conference is due next week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-PetroSaudi exec's lawyers quit'. Print Edition | Subscribe