Only regret is not protecting family: 1MDB whistle blower

MR XAVIER ANDRE JUSTO.
MR XAVIER ANDRE JUSTO.

Mr Xavier Andre Justo is considered a hero by many Malaysians, some of whom queued at an anti-corruption summit in Kuala Lumpur to take selfies with the man who spent 18 months in jail after leaking data on PetroSaudi's dealings with 1MDB.

The data blew the lid on how billions of ringgit had been siphoned from the state fund founded by then Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

But Mr Justo, a former PetroSaudi executive, dismisses the notion, saying "the people that went to vote on a Wednesday... those are the heroes". He was referring to the country's May 9 election which ended the six-decade-rule of Barisan Nasional, then helmed by Najib.

"I'm not a hero, however people see me, I don't care. I'm 52, I'm too old for this," he told The Straits Times on Tuesday.

Mr Justo said that he initially used the reported 90GB of information as leverage to gain 2 million Swiss francs (S$2.8 million) of a 6.5 million Swiss franc-severance package that PetroSaudi refused to pay him when he left the company in 2013.

He later sought to sell the data to financial newspaper The Edge for US$2 million (S$2.8 million), or "what is owed to me, not a single penny more".

He handed over the hard drive containing the information in 2015, but before he could be paid, he was arrested by Thai police on what he says were trumped-up charges of attempted blackmail.

COST OF WHISTLE BLOWING

I made my wife suffer and I didn't see my son for half his life.

'' MR XAVIER ANDRE JUSTO, on the toll his actions took on his family. His child was aged three by the time of his release.

 
 
 

Using that information, The Edge published articles on 1MDB's questionable US$1.8 billion investment in an oilfield developed jointly with PetroSaudi.

The exposes turned Mr Justo into an unwitting whistle blower of one chapter of the 1MDB saga, a scandal the US Department of Justice has described as "kleptocracy at its worst".

His good deed, however, took a toll. "I made my wife suffer and I didn't see my son for half his life," he says of his child who was three years old by the time he was released.

Still, he insists he does not regret his actions and would do it all again. "I should have gone back to Switzerland. Nobody is born a whistle blower, there is no school for that. I thought doing this from Thailand... this is okay, I'm safe here. This was my mistake."

Mr Justo first spoke to The Straits Times in Bangkok prison, soon after his arrest in June 2015. In that interview, he told ST that he stole the data to blackmail his former employer PetroSaudi and that the people he sold the information to intended to tamper with it to bring down Najib's government.

He now says that he was forced, under duress, to make those allegations and confess to attempted blackmail because he was threatened with 10 years imprisonment in Thailand by PetroSaudi director Patrick Mahony, acting in concert with British private detective Paul Finnegan who pretended to be a Scotland Yard officer.

He refused at first, but after three days in the Bangkok prison, cooped up with about 50 cellmates sharing one toilet, he buckled. "What did I do? I cooperate. The smell, the dirt... it's a nightmare."

More than that, it appeared that Mr Finnegan was genuinely able to influence the Thai authorities, as Mr Justo says he first met the private eye in the office of the Bangkok police chief immediately after being arrested in Koh Samui. Mr Finnegan also appeared to have free access to the prison.

He says he was forced to give interviews repeating his scripted confession and allegations to The Straits Times, as well as Swiss publications Le Temps and Tages Anzeiger.

"Those people are brilliant to manipulate people, they even manipulate lawyers. In Feb 2016, I was interviewed by Malaysian police. Finnegan gave me 55 to 57 questions in advance that the Malaysian delegation will ask me," he said.

After cooperating, Mr Justo was sentenced to three years' jail, instead of the six-month term that was promised him by Mr Finnegan.

The Swiss authorities finally intervened when Malaysia wanted to extradite Mr Justo in 2016, pressuring the Thai authorities to return their citizen.

Since returning home at the end of 2016, Mr Justo has assisted Swiss investigators in their probe into US$4 billion they allege was misappropriated from 1MDB.

Meanwhile, a renewed probe into 1MDB has resulted in criminal charges filed against several people in recent months, including Najib.

Today, Mr Justo has put over three decades in the world of finance behind him and leads a simple life as a real estate agent in Geneva. "It's good enough to feed my family, to drive a modest car... I'm more happy now than before."

Shannon Teoh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2018, with the headline 'Only regret is not protecting family: 1MDB whistle blower'. Print Edition | Subscribe