Thailand may jail suspect in 1MDB blackmail case

Country's police say foreign authorities not involved in case against Swiss national

Xavier Andre Justo (seated) appearing before the media after being arrested in Thailand.
Xavier Andre Justo (seated) appearing before the media after being arrested in Thailand.PHOTO: ROYAL THAI POLICE

Xavier Andre Justo, the Swiss national held in Thailand for an alleged blackmail attempt linked to the controversial 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), could be jailed here before he can face trial in other jurisdictions, Thai police indicated yesterday.

But they stressed they have not been working with any foreign government on this case.

Justo has not been interrogated by any foreign security official and no foreign government has made a request to do so, despite reports to the contrary.

"There has been no official request and no interview whatsoever," said deputy national police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen.

"We will never allow a foreign authority to work in our own turf."

However, he said Malaysia's Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar has asked to meet Thailand's deputy national police chief Jakthip Chaijinda, who arrives in Malaysia tomorrow for an Asean ministerial meeting on people smuggling and human trafficking. They are expected to discuss Justo's case.

Justo, 49, was arrested last Monday for attempting to extort money from his former employer PetroSaudi International.

The company was involved in a short-lived 2009 joint venture with 1MDB that critics blame for starting the latter's financial woes.

Documents showing financial mismanagement at 1MDB - purportedly from Justo - were published by investigative journalism website Sarawak Report, and have been cited by critics to discredit Prime Minister Najib Razak. 1MDB is wholly owned by the Finance Ministry, which Datuk Seri Najib heads.

Following the arrest, a New Straits Times report quoted an unnamed executive in cybersecurity firm Protection Group International as saying the PetroSaudi data had been doctored before it was published on Sarawak Report.

The data-doctoring allegations, even if true, are unlikely to have a bearing on the case against Justo.

This is because the charges of attempted extortion and attempted blackmail are related to a meeting Justo had with PetroSaudi's chief executive officer in a Bangkok hotel in 2013, police colonel Kornchai Klayklueng, deputy commander of the Crime Suppression Division, told The Straits Times.

At the meeting, Justo allegedly wanted 2.5 million Swiss francs (S$3.6 million) but his demand was turned down.

PetroSaudi made a police report in May this year, and also revealed that Justo was living on the resort island of Koh Samui.

Thai police tracked him down by following, among other things, his electronic and cellphone trail.

Col Kornchai said Justo kept a low profile and left electronic documents in other people's care to avoid detection. But his residence was a mansion with eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a swimming pool and a tennis court, which he had bought through what is now suspected to be a shell company. He was trying to sell it at 88 million baht (S$3.5 million) just before he was arrested.

Justo had sent at least 10 e-mails to PetroSaudi's CEO after he left the company in 2011.

 "He admitted that he sent the e-mails," said Col Kornchai. "But he denies the charges."

Under Thailand's penal code, extortion carries a jail term of up to five years and a fine of up to 10,000 baht.

Blackmail carries a jail sentence of one to 10 years and a 2,000 to 20,000 baht fine.

Acknowledging the international interest in this case, Col Kornchai stressed that no foreign government had aided Thai police investigations so far.

Thai police acted swiftly on Justo's case because "we don't want foreigners to use Thailand as a criminal hub".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2015, with the headline 'Thailand may jail suspect in 1MDB blackmail case'. Subscribe