Thai police say suspect in Malaysia-connected blackmail case against Saudi oil firm confesses

BANGKOK – A Swiss man has confessed to blackmailing his former employer, a Saudi oil exploration company, by threatening to reveal documents with information about alleged financial wrongdoing linked to the Malaysian government, Thai police said Thursday.

Thai national police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thawornsiri said Xavier Justo, 49, confessed he threatened to reveal what he claimed was confidential information that would cause great damage to the company, PetroSaudi International. Justo was arrested June 22 in Thailand following a complaint by PetroSaudi International and is in jail awaiting formal charges.

Although Justo is accused of blackmailing the Saudi company, embarrassment seems more evident in Malaysia because of alleged connections between PetroSaudi and Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, which is facing serious financial problems.

Prawut spoke after he and Thai national police chief Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung met with officials from the Malaysian Embassy.

Interest in the case skyrocketed earlier this month when The Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report, a London-based Malaysian anti-government website, published allegations that almost $700 million in 1MDB funds had been transferred in 2013 to bank accounts apparently controlled by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak ahead of a general election. Najib has denied any wrongdoing, and called the leaking of documents a political plot against him.

Malaysian officials allege that separate earlier revelations about 1MDB published by Sarawak Report came from documents leaked by Justo. They also said the documents published by the website were altered from those originally in PetroSaudi’s files to make the government look bad.

The origin of the more recently published documents about money transfers from 1MDB to Najib’s alleged accounts remains unclear, and is the subject of an official investigation in Malaysia.

Thai police said they turned down a request from their Malaysian counterparts to share evidence in Justo’s case because the alleged blackmail took place in Thailand and the investigation is ongoing. Police spokesman Prawut said Thai officials would consider what information they could turn over if a request came through diplomatic channels.

Much of what Thai police told reporters Thursday appeared to repeat information previously released or leaked by Malaysian officials. Prawut said Thailand’s investigation showed that the alleged extortion was done by a network of people, including media and politicians in a neighbouring country, and that the documents in question had been altered. He said the goal was to discredit the government of another country.

He said the network had held meetings in Thailand and Singapore, suggesting that payment for the documents was made in Singapore, an action he described as money laundering but outside of Thai jurisdiction. Prawut also said there had been no request for the extradition of Justo because the alleged blackmail attempt had been made in Thailand.