KUALA LUMPUR - The owner and the publisher of The Edge Media Group admitted on Friday to misleading Swiss national Xavier Andre Justo into believing that he would be paid for handing over 400,000 documents relating to 1Malaysia Development Berhad's (1MDB) aborted venture with Saudi oil firm PetroSaudi.
In a joint response to The Straits Times' interview with the former PetroSaudi executive, Datuk Tong Kooi Ong and Mr Ho Kay Tat said: "Yes, we misled him."
"But that was the only way to get hold of the evidence to expose how a small group of Malaysians and foreigners cheated the people of Malaysia of US$1.83 billion (S$2.5 billion)," they said in a statement posted on the Malaysian Insider, a news portal owned by the media group.
Both men, however, denied tampering with the documents as claimed by Justo.
Datuk Tong is a Malaysian businessman who owns The Edge Media Group, while Mr Ho is the publisher and chief executive.
The Edge had earlier this week handed over all evidence concerning its allegations that Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, and PetroSaudi cheated the Malaysian public by using 1MDB as a front.
The state investor, which racked up debts totalling RM42 billion (S$15 billion) in just five years, has become a political liability for Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The Malaysian leader has not denied the July 3 allegations by the Wall Street Journal and London-based website Sarawak Report that US$700 million of 1MDB-linked funds were transferred into his personal accounts over the past two years, saying only that he has never used public money for personal gains.
But Mr Justo's arrest in Thailand last month over allegations of extortion and blackmail of PetroSaudi has led to claims of a conspiracy to topple the Najib administration.
In his interview with The Straits Times published on Friday, Mr Justo said Mr Tong had agreed to pay him US$2 million in exchange for data he had taken from PetroSaudi before leaving the firm, but he did not receive any payment up to the point of his arrest.
He added that Mr Tong and Sarawak Report founder Clare Rewcastle-Brown had told him they planned to modify the data to bring down Mr Najib.
Ms Rewcastle-Brown has dismissed such claims as "bunkum" while Mr Tong and Mr Ho said in their statement that if they had "intended to tamper with the documents and that our objective was to bring down the government, surely if we had such intentions we would not tell it to someone we were meeting for the first time."
"All the more so when we know he will be upset with us because we will eventually not pay him what he wants," they said, adding that they had digitally fingerprinted the hard disc delivered by Mr Justo containing the leaked data, and handed it this week to Malaysia's central bank, police and anti-corruption agency. The three bodies form a Special Task Force on 1MDB, along with the Attorney General's Chambers.
Mr Tong and Mr Ho also pointed out "that so many government agencies are now investigating 1MDB and that it is now almost an insolvent company that needs to be bailed out validates all the work The Edge Media Group has done to expose what had happened.
"We have done nothing wrong and we are here to assist investigators unlike some who seem to have disappeared," they concluded.
Thai police arrested Justo on June 22 at his residence on the resort island of Koh Samui.
A former head of IT at the London office of Petro Saudi, Justo has admitted that he had stolen company data - some 90 gigabytes worth - when he left in 2011.