The owner and the publisher of The Edge Media Group have admitted to misleading Swiss national Xavier Andre Justo into believing that he would be paid for handing over data stolen from his former employer, PetroSaudi.
The company is embroiled in a scandal involving allegations of financial impropriety at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the state investment firm.
In a joint response, owner Tong Kooi Ong and publisher 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)."
Justo, in an interview published in The Straits Times yesterday, said that Mr Tong agreed to pay him US$2 million in exchange for the data. But the Swiss national said he eventually did not receive any payment up until the time he was arrested in Thailand, apparently in connection with an attempt to blackmail PetroSaudi.
Justo told The Straits Times he met a group of people in Singapore to negotiate the sale of the data and they included Mr Tong, Mr Ho, Ms Clare Rewcastle-Brown, who is the Malaysian-born British editor of the Sarawak Report website, and her "IT guy".
PLOY TO GET INFORMATION
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.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.
MR TONG KOOI ONG and MR HO KAY TAT, the owner and publisher respectively of The Edge Media Group, about Xavier Andre Justo. They led him to believe that he would be paid US$2 million for handing over data stolen from his former employer, PetroSaudi, which had a joint venture with 1MDB
He claimed that Mr Tong and Ms Rewcastle-Brown told him they planned to modify the data to bring down Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Ms Rewcastle-Brown, who on Thursday dismissed Justo's claims as "bunkum", yesterday said that Mr Tong had indicated to the former PetroSaudi IT executive that he would be paid.
"But when it emerged they were not paying Justo, I had to deal with a lot of upset from him (Justo). I did not want to have anything to do with it but offered to try and mediate.
"It did not come to anything," she told the Malaysiakini website.
Ms Rewcastle-Brown repeated that there was "no question of tampering (with) these documents".
In their statement, Mr Tong and Mr Ho also vehemently denied the allegations of tampering.
They said: "As for Justo's allegations that we told him we 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 added that they had digitally fingerprinted the hard disk delivered by Justo containing the leaked data, securing its original contents, which were handed this week to the central bank, police and anti- corruption agency.
Justo's arrest at his residence on the Thai resort island of Koh Samui on June 22 has led to claims of a conspiracy to topple the Najib administration.
Datuk Seri Najib, who heads 1MDB's advisory board, has found himself ensnared in the 1MDB scandal after The Wall Street Journal and the Sarawak Report on July 3 alleged that US$700 million of 1MDB-linked funds were transferred into his personal accounts over the past two years.
Datuk Seri Najib has dismissed the allegations, saying that he has never used public money for personal gain.
Malaysian police have sought to question Justo but so far to no avail.
Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar, who was in Bangkok on Thursday, said yesterday that police would "consult the Attorney-General to get access to interview Justo. Justo can be interviewed by Malaysian police only after he is charged in a court in Thailand".
Mr Tong and Mr Ho yesterday questioned how The Straits Times had managed to gain access to Justo. They said: "We wonder which powerful hidden hand arranged for Nirmal Ghosh of the Singapore daily to meet Justo so that he can launch an attack on us?"
In response to queries from Malaysian media, Straits Times foreign editor Audrey Quek said: "Our reporter in Bangkok, following up on this story, had for several days sought access to Justo and was eventually offered it by his lawyer. Naturally, we pursued the opportunity, given the widespread interest in it and its significance. We know of no hidden hand behind our getting access to him."