What does PetroSaudi whistleblower and retired Swiss banker Andre Xavier Justo’s Thai royal pardon mean to Malaysia and the 1MDB probes which are being carried out in at least six countries?
According to lawyer Worrasit Piriyawiboon, his client got the pardon in conjunction with Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 70 years on the throne and Queen Sirikit’s birthday.
Justo was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on Aug 17 in Bangkok last year for attempted blackmail of his former employer, PetroSaudi International, where he served as a director, and received a royal pardonyesterday.
Now, questions are being raised as to who hastened or influenced the early pardon – the Thai royalty, Malaysia or the United States?
Or it could be his wife, Laura Justo, who had been pressing for his release and leaked a secretly taped telephone conversation last month?
On July 28, The Guardian published a lengthy piece, ‘1MDB: The inside story of the world’s biggest financial scandal’, which included an audio link to the taped conversation.
The taped conversation between Justo’s wife Laura and PetroSaudi’s business affairs director Patrick Mahony revealed an immense wealth of information on the 1MDB scandal which was not revealed before.
Mahony spoke in French in the recorded conversation with Laura sometime in November 2015. He refers obliquely to a powerful person whom he claims could help reduce Justo’s sentence.
“I told you the other evening, who the ultimate person is controlling this, and I am due to have another meeting with him soon… This guy is still stressed because it’s his political career on the line. He’s in deep shit and that’s all he cares about, nothing else.”
When Laura asks what she should tell her husband, Mahony says: “The only way that you can show that you’re on his side – to be a team player – is if you’re ready to put yourself out in the media. You are ready to denounce all the people who are conspiring against him … I am not going to lie to you… You can help the situation or you cannot help the situation.”
A terrified and angry Mahony snaps in a part of the taped conversation when Laura pressed for Justo’s release.
“I’m still dealing with this shit every day. You need to remember we are all in the shit. I know he’s in prison and you are alone with the baby. And I looked at you the other day and I told you I feel for you. But me, I’m also in the shit. And a lot of other people are in the shit. A prime minister of a country is in deep shit because he has been put in this shit.”
How did this speedy pardon come about? Was it through a government-to-government initiative?
And did the US Department of Justice (DOJ) play a part? Will Justo be a witness when the trial starts in the United States?
In December last year, Mahony admits in another phone conversation with Laura that he had been to the US where “the FBI is looking at all this shit” and that he had been pulled in by the Swiss’ Office of the Attorney General, The Guardian stated.
“The Swiss are continuing to really give us shit… They know they have nothing… But they say they are fearful of being accused of not doing anything,” Mahony continued.
PetroSaudi has repeatedly said that it would cooperate with any official authority in any jurisdiction and stressed that it was not the subject of any investigation. Mahony had yet to be questioned by US or Swiss officials, according to the British newspaper.
When the DOJ laid out the case against 1MDB about a month ago, it pulled no punches.
“The Malaysian people were defrauded on an enormous scale,” said Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s deputy director. US officials told The Guardian that any party who wanted to contest the attorney-general’s claim must file a response in a federal court within 60 days to answer the allegations.
Laura believed that Mahony had controlled over Justo’s life behind bars, deciding how comfortable his living space would be and who could visit him. (Foreign prisoners have a list posted outside the prison of permitted visitors. Mahony is listed as number two. Laura at number five.)
The Guardian reported that Laura had emails and WhatsApp messages, as well as recordings of phone calls from last year, that suggested Mahony was under increasing pressure from the Malaysian authorities, on one hand, and from US and Swiss investigators combing through 1MDB’s deals, on the other.
As DOJ prepares for a full-fledged trial to bring to book the culprits, there will be no holds barred.
Malaysians and people around the world are eagerly waiting to see if the allegations related to 1MDB, which were denied by local officials, are indeed true as witnesses, which may include Justo, and evidence are produced in the DOJ’s trials.
M KRISHNAMOORTHY is a freelance journalist and local coordinator for Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC and several other foreign television networks. He was formerly a journalist with The Star and New Straits Times and has authored five books and teaches journalism subjects in local universities