INTERVIEW | Former PetroSaudi International official Xavier Andre Justo said he had never stolen any data from his former employers and that all confessions he signed while in Thai custody were made under duress.
In an interview with Malaysiakini yesterday, Justo, who was handed a three-year sentence for blackmail by the Thai courts in 2015, said he had sought copies of company emails when he quit in 2011 as insurance, and nothing else.
At the time, PetroSaudi and their officials were flush with cash after US$1 billion was injected by 1MDB - a sovereign wealth fund founded by the Najib Abdul Razak administration - for a purported joint-venture which began in Sept 28, 2009.
Justo said he had sensed that something was amiss and wanted the emails to prove that he was not party to the joint-venture, as he was an official with the company with the authority to sign off documents.
He said he left the company after a fallout with Tarek Obaid, the PetroSaudi founder and CEO, whom Justo described was once a good friend.
“There was money all over. They were buying flats. Renting yachts. Hiring private jets. Partying,” he said.
“I wasn't happy with how my relationship was with Tarek at the time. We were supposed to be friends. But some people, when they receive a lot of money, they become crazy.”
PetroSaudi, he said, had no business taking on billion-dollar deals with anyone because it was a “fake company” without proper business activities or experience.
Prior to the 2009 joint-venture, PetroSaudi's staff was limited to only a handful of secretaries in offices spread across Riyadh, Geneva and London, who would answer “one or two phone calls a week”, he said.
The only legitimate business activity undertaken by PetroSaudi was a deal with Venezuela, which eventually collapsed. The company also owned only two drillships, of which one - the 40-year-old Petrosaudi Discoverer - Justo said was so dilapidated and dirty that he refused to board it.
The only asset which PetroSaudi had at the time, according to Justo, was the ring to the name.
“PetroSaudi is a very nice name. When you hear PetroSaudi it is like Petronas or Petrobras. It sounded like a state company. But that was not the case. It was just a name that they bought.
“Prince Turki was a shareholder, but there was never ever any official link with the Saudi family, oil field or big Saudi oil firm. They just had a very nice name. That was their main asset,” he said.
After leaving PetroSaudi, Justo moved to Koh Samui, Thailand where he married and started a family. He had already sold his assets and had begun building a mansion. It was meant to be retirement in paradise.
However, he was still owed US$2 million by his former employers, which he was intent on recovering. When that failed, he turned to Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the editor of Sarawak Report, and a Malaysian media mogul.
He had passed the duo the email cache, which numbered about 230,000. Initially, he had asked the media mogul for the sum, but released it to the duo for free eventually.
Following this, damning reports on how US$1 billion invested by 1MDB was abused began to surface, including how US$700 million was siphoned from the joint-venture with PetroSaudi, sparking domestic investigations on the deal.
By July that year, matters came to a head in Kuala Lumpur. This was the height of Malaysia’s investigations into 1MDB and Malaysia’s deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail and a special branch deputy chief were all removed from office. Investigations ground to a halt.
Over in Bangkok, Justo was arrested over his 2013 meeting with PetroSaudi player Patrick Mahony, purportedly involving blackmail. New Straits Times (NST) in its reports claimed that Justo had links with the Malaysian opposition of the time, and that news organisations had published articles based on the leaked emails after they were allegedly tampered with.
At the time, Rewcastle-Brown was repeatedly accused by Najib’s henchmen of releasing the “tampered” material as part of a massive conspiracy to topple a legitimately elected prime minister.
In hindsight, Justo said he was a victim of corrupt Thai officials who were pliant to their Malaysian counterparts who wanted to discredit him and the emails at all cost.
“They had to make me look like a very bad guy. A criminal. They even wanted me to say that (a local business paper) and Clare manipulated the data. It was never manipulated. I gave it to them for free.
“Yes, in the beginning, I did ask for money that was owed to me. If I were to blackmail PetroSaudi, why would I just ask for US$2 million? I would sell it for US$50 million or maybe go to Najib’s office and ask for US$100 million,” he said.
Justo said that he had no choice but to confess and cast others in bad light as ordered because he was threatened with the maximum 10 years jail term had he not complied.
He was freed in December 2016 after receiving a royal pardon, and in part due to intervention from the Swiss authorities. Since then, he has been rebuilding his life while pursuing criminal action against Obaid and Mahony through the Swiss justice system.
Over the past week, Justo has met the MACC and Putrajaya’s special 1MDB taskforce. Justo stressed that he was in Malaysia on his own expense, and will assist Malaysian investigators in any way possible.