Straits Times says unaware of ‘hidden hand’ behind Justo ‘confession’

Zurairi Ar
Former Petrosaudi International executive Xavier Justo arrives at the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya May 24, 2018. ― Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — Singapore’s Straits Times (ST) has refuted financial daily The Edge’s accusation that the former was involved with an arranged interview with ex-PetroSaudi executive Xavier Andre Justo in 2015 to present a false narrative.

The paper’s then-Indochina bureau chief Nirmala Ghosh insisted yesterday that he had been professional when approaching the story related to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal.

“If Mr Justo’s new claims are true, they are disappointing. I pursued the story as a professional journalist, trying various ways to get details on the case and access to Mr Justo. I put in a request to his Thai lawyer for an interview,” he was quoted as saying in ST.

“When I was told by the lawyer I could interview him, I proceeded in good faith and reported his remarks accurately. More often than not, in interviews, newsmakers tell their side of the story. This seemed no different.

“Whatever deals Mr Justo had made, or what his deeper calculation was, I was unaware of. To verify the claims and as per good journalistic practice, we asked for reactions from key people he named — and we used their reactions as well,” he added.

ST’s editor Warren Fernandez also defended the journalist, and said he was not aware of any hidden hand, nor was the paper party to any deals.

“Our approach to this story was standard and professional,” he said.

“Every news organisation was pursuing this story and trying to get to speak to Justo. Nirmal managed to get access, and got the story. He did a professional and creditable job. That was our only purpose in running this story.”

In 2015, ST had quoted Justo as claiming that he was offered nearly US$2 million (RM7.6 million) by a “prominent” Malaysian businessman and his colleague for documents stolen from PSI, though he was not paid the amount in the end.

Media tycoon Datuk Tong Kooi Ong and Ho Kay Tat, the publisher and group chief executive of The Edge Media Group, then publicly confessed to misleading Justo over the promised sum, insisting that it “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.”

The Edge reported yesterday that Justo claimed he was blackmailed to deliver a prepared confession by PetroSaudi director Patrick Mahony and UK private detective Paul Finnegan, who then allegedly arranged for an interview with Ghosh.

Justo is currently in Malaysia to assist investigations into 1MDB.