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Swiss review criminal complaint filed by figure in 1MDB case

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Swiss national Justo is escorted by Thai police commandos as he arrives at the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok

Swiss national Xavier Justo is escorted by Thai police commandos as he arrives at the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok, Thailand, December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss prosecutors are reviewing a criminal complaint filed against two former colleagues and an alleged accomplice by Xavier Justo, a former director of energy group PetroSaudi International Ltd and a key figure in the 1MDB affair.

Justo told Reuters he was trying to clear his name after being jailed in Thailand for blackmailing his former employer over its ties to the scandal-hit Malaysian state fund 1MDB, with which it ran an energy joint venture from 2009 to 2012.

The blackmail allegation arose from Justo's demanding money from PetroSaudi and threatening to make public information he gleaned from his time at the company.

PetroSaudi, which was not itself a subject of the complaint, responded through its lawyers that Justo was merely trying to "deflect attention from his own wrongdoing".

    It was documents that Justo leaked after he left PetroSaudi in 2011 that triggered investigations in at least six countries into alleged theft of assets from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund.

The documents raised suspicions about how funds at the venture were used and prompted investigators to probe suspicions that money had been siphoned off from the joint venture.

A total of $4.5 billion (£3.2 billion) was misappropriated by high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates, according to civil lawsuits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak set up 1MDB in 2009 and served as chairman of its advisory board. He and the fund have denied any wrongdoing.

  

FORCED CONFESSION?

Justo was freed from a Thai prison in an amnesty in 2016. Now he alleges that his confession came under pressure from PetroSaudi executives and their allies -- including public relations officials and a fake London police detective -- to cover up facts in the scandal.

    The Swiss Office of the Attorney General confirmed it had received Justo's criminal complaints and was reviewing them, declining to comment further.

    PetroSaudi has denied wrongdoing in connection with the 1MDB venture and said it would cooperate fully with authorities.

Asked for comment on Justo's allegations, PetroSaudi's lawyers released a statement saying he was only repeating claims that contradicted his previous admissions.

"Our client did not take any steps to force him to make a false confession. He confessed to blackmail because the evidence against him was overwhelming and incontrovertible," it said.

They questioned why Justo had gone public with his criminal complaint at a weekend news conference only months after approaching Swiss authorities.

"It seems to our client that the timing of this press conference suggests it has been carefully orchestrated to coincide with the upcoming elections in Malaysia, when Prime Minister Razak will be seeking re-election," they said.

    Justo said Swiss authorities had asked him to delay filing charges to avoid interfering with their existing money-laundering investigation.  

    The complaints that he and his wife brought against PetroSaudi co-founder and chief executive Tarek Obaid, ex-PetroSaudi director Patrick Mahony and Briton Paul Finnigan include making threats, blackmail, extortion, endangering the lives of others, slanderous denunciation, misleading justice, and money-laundering.

They could not be reached immediately for comment.

    Justo was sentenced to three years in prison in Thailand in 2015 on charges of blackmail and attempted extortion after what he now says was a confession made under pressure from his former PetroSaudi colleagues and their associates including Finnigan, who Justo says posed in Thailand as a detective from London's Metropolitan Police.

    "The deal (with his former colleagues) was 'Cooperate, give them whatever they want ... and you will be out before Christmas 2016', so I confessed," he told Reuters. "It was a set-up."

    Justo denied in the interview that he had tried to blackmail PetroSaudi, saying he was simply trying to recover the balance of a 6.5 million Swiss franc settlement agreed when he left the company in 2011.


(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Gareth Jones)