Thai police say London-based news outlet tampered with documents to discredit Najib

Malaysian PM Najib Razak attending prayers at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BANGKOK - Thai police confirmed that a news outlet based in London had tampered with classified documents belonging to Saudi oil company PetroSaudi International with the intent of discrediting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his administration.

Without naming the news organisation, Thai police spokesman Lt Gen Prawut Thavornsiri said it belonged to a Malaysia-born woman who had moved to Britain, New Straits Times (NST) reported.

He told the newspaper on Friday that the woman was part of a group of potential buyers interested in purchasing documents from Swiss citizen Xavier Andre Justo, a former employee of PetroSaudi who is being investigated for alledgedly blackmailing the oil company.

The firm and Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysian Development Bhd (1MDB) were involved in a short-lived joint venture in 2009 thatMalaysia's opposition has blamed for creating the heavy financial losses at 1MDB.

"Some members of the group, including the woman, had met with Justo three times in Thailand to determine whether the information contained in the documents was of any use to them," he told NST.

The newspaper said Prawut was believed to be referring to Sarawak Report founder and editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown, a British national who was born in Malaysia.

Under Thai law, a person cannot be named prior to a warrant of arrest, according to the report.

The Thai police spokesman also said they had strong reason to believe that the documents were tampered with.

"The information contained in the documents that were published online appear to be different from the original digital copies retrieved from Justo's personal computer," he said.

Prawut also said the group had met with Justo at least once at a hotel in Singapore.

"We have strong evidence to support alleged meetings and we can confirm that they did take place in both countries," he said.

The group comprised prominent figures from the Malaysian opposition, government and media.

His comments came after a former editor of Sarawak Report, Lester Melanyi, alleged that Malaysian opposition leaders had conspired with the whistleblower website on the 1MDB issue.

Prawut told NST that after negotiations concluded, a chat group was created on social messaging service WhatsApp to discuss the terms of payment.

"After they agreed on the selling price, they signed a contract whereby Justo would sell a 'software company' to the group. And the remaining money from the 'purchase' would be used to pay Justo," he said.

This was similar to a money laundering tactic commonly employed by criminal gangs, the Thai spokesman said, adding that Thai police were ready to share this information with their Malaysian counterparts.

"I am also of the opinion that a case should be opened in Singapore as the money laundering started in that country, " he was quoted as saying by NST.

Thai police arrested Justo at his plush home on the resort island of Koh Samui on June 22. The 49-year-old had worked for PetroSaudi from 2010 to 2011.

"The CEO of that company was Xavier's close friend. I don't know what conflict they had; he (Justo) walked out and requested money from the company," The Straits Times quoted Prawut as saying.

"The company paid him about four million Swiss francs at the time he walked out.

"After two years Xavier called the CEO again and asked for some money again. Before he left, he had copied every email of the company from the server. It was in 2013 that he called the company and said I know all your secrets, and I want US$2.5 million (S$3.4 million)."

When PetroSaudi turned down his demand, Justo then approached the other group, said Prawut.

Justo would be charged with blackmail, Prawut told The Straits Times.

On July 3, Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal claimed that US$700 million linked to 1MDB was deposited into Najib's private bank accounts over the past two years. Najib has denied ever using state funds for "personal gain".

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