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ST accused of deliberate misreporting regarding purported settlement between IPIC and 1MDB

The Straits Times was accused of deliberate misreporting regarding what it calls a “so-called settlement” between controversial state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and Abu Dhabi’s state-owned International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) over two separate bond offerings arranged and underwritten by global investment banking firm Goldman Sachs International six years ago worth US$3.5 bil in total.

Veteran business journalist P. Gunasegaran and his team from the now-defunct online business news portal KINIBIZ wrote in “1MDB: The Scandal That Brought Down a Government” that ST had “preposterously reported” that “the successful implementation of the proposed settlement could impact legal action being considered against 1MDB by foreign governments, including the DOJ”.

“1MDB: The Scandal That Brought Down a Government” is the first ever book to be written about the 1MDB fiasco.

Quoting ST, the authors wrote that “the disputed monies in the Malaysia-Abu Dhabi row are central to legal suits brought by the DOJ over alleged misappropriation of funds from 1MDB”, as the department claims that the funds siphoned from 1MDB were channelled into real estate purchases and other assets by Najib Razak’s associates.

According to “financial executives” who spoke to ST, “the settlement agreement would result in “no predicate offence,” as stated in the book.

A predicate offence is an offence that makes up a part of a more serious crime. To illustrate, money laundering is the predicate offence to the production of unlawful funds, which is the primary offence. The term is often used in reference to money laundering or activities related to the financing of terrorism.

ST accused of having a “hidden hand” behind securing interview with Xavier Justo in “high-security” Bangkok prison at the time when Malaysian authorities were not permitted to see him

Separately on 28 May this year, The Edge Singapore alleged that ST‘s Bangkok-based reporter Nirmal Ghosh’s interview with former PetroSaudi employee Xavier Andre Justo was scripted by the oil firm.

The Edge Communications’ group chief executive officer and publisher Ho Kay Tat, who is also formerly a correspondent of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), highlighted that it was “remarkable” for Mr Ghosh to have had access to Justo while “the Malaysian police were not allowed (at the time) to see” him.

Mr Ho revealed that he had queried ST as to whether there was a “hidden hand” that had facilitated the meeting for the interview, following which he wrote: “ST’s foreign news editor Audrey Quek issued a statement to deny that any hidden hands were involved.”

In addition, he disclosed that a “top Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) executive sent me a WhatsApp message to rebut my allegation and said the story was an example of “enterprising” news-gathering and that Nirmal had worked on it for weeks”.

“As a former correspondent of SPH, I did not want to prolong the argument with my former colleagues and bosses, although I was confident I was right,” wrote Mr Ho.

“I suggested that the ST bosses find out more from Nirmal about the people who arranged the interview with Justo. Whether they ever did so, I don’t know,” he added.

Justo told “to give an interview to a reporter from the ST”, was handed “a list of 50 questions and answers” prior to the interview: Ho Kay Tat

Noting Justo’s release “after being granted a royal pardon last year”, Mr Ho said that Justo “had maintained his silence until March this year when he met the press in Switzerland after giving long depositions to the Swiss Attorney-General about 1MDB/PetroSaudi transactions and what had happened to him in Bangkok”.

Mr Ho recalled that in a meeting with Justo, who had received an invitation to meet Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad following GE14, the Swiss national revealed that following his arrest over a blackmail charge, he was “kept in a lockup with 50 others, and everyone was virtually sleeping on top of each other”.

“After a week, he was told he had a choice either to cooperate or expect to languish in jail for many years,” wrote Mr Ho, adding that Justo “was also told he would be out in less than a year if he agreed to make confessions that were prepared for him”.

Justo, according to Mr Ho, also spoke about the ST interview, and pinpointed PetroSaudi director Patrick Mahony and UK private detective Paul Finnegan — the latter of which was disguised as a Scotland Yard detective — as the “hidden hands” behind the interview.

He told Mr Ho: “They handed to me a list of 50 questions and answers that I was supposed to use for my interview just before I saw him (Nirmal)”.

“Everything I told him was prepared by them (Mahony and Finnegan) and I was also told not to bring up the name Jho Low,” said Justo.

Asia Times reported that the ST story on Justo, which was “co-reported by Ghosh and Malaysian correspondent Shannon Teoh,” had “won Story of the Year at the 2016 Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Awards”.

“The Edge Singapore’s allegation was firmly rejected by both Ghosh, now The Straits Times’ US bureau chief, and the paper’s editor, Warren Fernandez,” it added.

In a brief statement that was published in ST, Mr Ghosh was quoted as saying: “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. When I was told by the lawyer I could interview him, I proceeded in good faith and reported his remarks accurately”.

Mr Fernandez defended Mr Ghosh, stating: “Every news organization 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”.

Responding to Asia Times in an email, however, Mr Ho said: “Nirmal mentioned only his contact with a lawyer. I think there was more than just the lawyer who was involved.”

Mr Ghosh, in his own response to Mr Ho’s claim, told Asia Times that as far as he was aware, Justo’s Thai lawyer had been the only individual involved in arranging the interview, and that he had not provided a list of questions to anyone prior to the interview.

“Why the “hidden hands” decided to use Nirmal and ST for the Justo “confession” to spin a fake narrative is open to speculation,” Mr Ho wrote in his piece in The Edge‘s 24-page special report on 1MDB.

Prior to the Pakatan Harapan takeover this year, two of the Edge Communications publications in KL —The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily — were suspended by the Najib Razak administration as Mr Ho underwent police investigations “for being part of an alleged plot to bring down a democratically elected government” at the time through The Edge‘s investigative reporting on 1MDB.