Malaysia's New Straits Times daily, in a front-page report yesterday - touted as explosive revelations - said there was a conspiracy to change "the destiny of one country" and topple Prime Minister Najib Razak. This prompted the British-based editor of the Sarawak Report as well as the owner and the publisher of The Edge daily to deny any involvement in such a plot.
The NST said investigations in Thailand in connection with the case of Swiss national Xavier Andre Justo, now serving time in Bangkok after admitting to blackmailing his former employer PetroSaudi, had "opened up a Pandora's box of the lengths Clare Rewcastle-Brown and her fellow plotters were willing to go to" to overthrow Datuk Seri Najib's government.
PetroSaudi has found itself embroiled in a huge scandal in Malaysia involving state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose chief adviser is Mr Najib.
The Umno-owned daily said Ms Rewcastle-Brown was willing to "break the laws of several countries by helping Justo" raise and then launder US$2 million (S$2.8 million) in payment from Edge owner Tong Kooi Ong for the stolen documents.
The NST report quoted sources close to the Thai authorities and was based largely on three-month- long WhatsApp exchanges involving Ms Rewcastle-Brown, The Edge Media Group's Mr Tong and Mr Ho Kay Tat, and Justo. The Straits Times has also obtained a full transcript of the WhatsApp chat and Justo's full confession to the Thai authorities.
According to an exchange on May 19, Ms Rewcastle-Brown was wary of channelling money to Justo through the British Virgin Islands. "It will look horrible in my published accounts! I will talk it through face to face. Better than dealing with awful KT," she said in a message, one of several that day.
"I am campaigning to prevent these tax havens. They will call me a hypocrite," she added.
Yesterday, she dismissed the NST report as part of a hatchet job and said she had sounded out various quarters on Justo's offer to sell the information, but only The Edge was interested. "I did not approve of Justo's desire to be paid for this story, but I understood it and there is no crime, as the NST is seeking to allege, in paying someone for a news story," she was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.
"However, what the New Straits Times will certainly know if they have read my WhatsApp messages to Justo, is that none of the various politicians they are trying to propagandise as being in some kind of undetermined conspiracy with me, was willing to do so. No plot there then, despite the allegations!"
She added that she would toast Mr Najib's departure, a clear reference to the NST headline in its two-page spread, but said "this is because I am a journalist who has exposed many crimes under his watch, not because I am being paid as part of some ill-defined conspiracy to criticise an innocent man".
Mr Tong and Mr Ho said in a joint statement that "our interest in 1MDB was purely to uncover what happened at 1MDB". They insisted they had never linked 1MDB to government figures. "We refute the suggestion by the NST or any other media and persons that we were part of a political conspiracy and that we had tampered with evidence related to 1MDB," they said, adding they would take legal action against those who continued to make such allegations.