By M Santhananaban
1MDB whistleblower Xavier Justo’s book Rendezvous With Injustice, published in Spain and printed in Malaysia (2023), presents a troubling, terrifying and, at times, terrorising insight into several peculiar and sleazy aspects of the 1MDB heist.
The book, co-authored with his wife Laura, provides an unvarnished account of the aggrieved couple’s experience of living in various European countries and in Southeast Asia, mainly as a beneficiary but also as a rebranded victim of two seedy perpetrators of a part of the 1MDB scam.
In the concluding paragraph of the book’s foreword, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad commends Justo’s courage in standing up against the perpetrators of the heist.
It is clear throughout the book that the principal originator, orchestrator and operator of the scam – who also made a last-ditch effort at the complete effacement of the evidence of the corruption and grand larceny of the 1MDB affair – was Najib Razak, the Prime Minister from 2009 to 2018.
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According to the book, Najib allegedly took out, without any proper authorisation, a vast sum of public funds from Malaysia and handed it to a junk puppet master, Low Taek Jho, with no safeguards.
A substantial portion of these funds was transferred to PetroSaudi, an empty business shell that had nothing to do with petroleum resources or the Saudi Arabian government or the all-powerful Al-Saud family of that country.
PetroSaudi was a remarkable ruse, a misleading misnomer and phoney trade name to create false impressions of the company’s high associations. The company had two key directors or co-conspirators, Tarek Obeid and Patrick Mahony.
Justo was for a time a highly paid employee of these two men and he relates how that empty shell of a company obtained, for a payment of US$100,000, an inflated incredible valuation of $3bn (RM14bn). Interestingly, this same Tarek could not, at an earlier stage, even get a credit card!
Justo had hired someone to set up PetroSaudi’s IT server and its operation. It was a copy of that server that contained all the insider information and communication that was vital to understanding the money flows and planned misappropriation of 1MDB assets.
Justo parted company with PetroSaudi after getting firsthand experience of how the PetroSaudi duo operated recklessly in an underhanded manner with both Malaysian funds and resources in Venezuela.
Justo was paid $4m (RM18m) as a parting gift by PetroSaudi. With that money, the Justo couple settled down in Koh Samui in Thailand in September 2011, got married and were building a seaside resort.
That idyllic life was to end in 2014. The Justos’ possession of the incriminating copy of the server of PetroSaudi became a bone of contention with the company. It was cast as industrial espionage.
By sheer bluster, bribery and falsehood, cooperation was obtained from allegedly corrupt Thai officials to file blackmail charges against Justo. In this episode, a certain Paul Finnegan posed as an officer of Scotland Yard.
Justo was kept in prison for 547 days and it was made out to the Thai authorities that the head of a government friendly to Thailand, Najib, was allegedly intent on having him extradited to Malaysia. Conditions in the prison in Thailand were subhuman and pathetic, and incarcerated prisoners had to allegedly pay bribes to get decent treatment.
Justo was subject, while incarcerated, to close surveillance by the nefarious duo from their base in Europe. All conversations with any visitor he had in prison were monitored, thanks to the private services allegedly rendered by Thai prison officials. (Obviously, conditions in Malaysian prisons are far better – although they need to be improved, especially with a former prime minister as a long-term guest!)
A combination of efforts by the Swiss government, the US authorities and the clemency offered by a new Thai monarch resulted in Xavier being released early and expelled to Switzerland with a proviso banning his entry to Thailand for a century!
Thailand, just as Malaysia was under Najib, has a reputation for corruption, but this case of alleged blackmail against Justo was a rank repression of the truth and a grave act of injustice.
Interestingly enough, Thailand’s anti-corruption commission has decided to charge the former high-flying police chief of Thailand of the 2010s, General Chakthip Chaijinda, along with three other senior police officers, for abusing their authority in the approval of large-scale procurement (unrelated to 1MDB).
The Justos’ fight for justice, the quest to tell their side of the 1MDB story in this book, is an account of how the powerful moneyed – and often tainted and compromised – elite can have innocent people locked up, suppress information and distort the narrative to suit their objectives. Powerful, well-paid lawyers, lawmen and petty officials were involved.
Najib, for instance, could do almost everything he wanted in Malaysia when he was in power.
Fortunately for the Justos, a motley group of conscientious and courageous individuals – such as Clare Rewcastle-Brown, Tong Kooi Ong, Ho Kay Tat, two upright Swiss lawyers and other outspoken and outstanding Malaysians – stepped forward to assist the couple.
Tong presented a gift of RM8m for the data that Justo had provided in raw form.
RM4m of that sum was allegedly loaned to a Kamal Siddiqi, an engineer and close associate of Mahathir.
Mahathir received Justo in Siddiqi’s presence in the then Prime Minister’s private home. Siddiqi died allegedly a bankrupt without repaying the loan.
If this account is true – for the first meeting with the greatest risk-taking whistleblower in the 1MDB scandal, was it appropriate for a sitting prime minister of Malaysia to receive Justo in Siddiqi’s presence? What was the need to include this Siddiqi fellow who had no relevance, position or gravitas in the Malaysian establishment or in crime-fighting?
At the time of this informal meeting, it would have been far more appropriate to have at that meeting an officer investigating this sordid 1MDB affair, instead of an about-to-be UK-domiciled bankrupt.
Leaders in Malaysia seem to make their own laws and follow their own logic without giving due regard to the positions of trust they hold.
That certainly has to stop.
M Santhananaban is a former ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience. He has no political affiliations