1MDB queries need answers

1MDB queries need answers

Now that the military junta is being accused of helping Malaysia's former government to cover up the multi-billion-dollar investment fund 1MDB scandal, it should be of utmost importance for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to ensure that the public is given a clear, accurate picture of what exactly happened.

Instead, the premier has done the exact opposite. He threatened to take legal action against former Future Forward Party MP Pannika Wanich, who brought the issue to light on Sunday. This tactic is normally employed to silence whistle-blowers.

However, Ms Pannika is not the actual whistle-blower. The information she was referring to had been exposed by Swiss national Xavier Andre Justo and reported internationally in 2015. All she did was re-package the content and present it in the local context, asking if the junta had helped the Najib Razak government to arrest Justo and why it had allowed an internationally wanted financial criminal walk freely in Thailand.

In early 2015, Justo exposed the scandal, involving the siphoning of billions of dollars from the 1MDB fund to Mr Najib's personal bank accounts. He is a former employee of PetroSaudi, the key accomplice in the case.

In June that year, he was arrested in Koh Samui over allegations of extortion and in August, the Thai Criminal Court gave him three years in jail. This was one month after the alleged link between PetroSaudi and 1MDB surfaced.

Ms Pannika queried irregularities in relation to Justo's arrest and subsequent confession as well as how he was treated in prison.

Apparently a man called Paul Finnigan, who pretended to be a member of UK's police force, was freely allowed to visit Justo and talk him into confessing in exchange for a lighter sentence. Yet requests by US FBI officials to visit Justo were denied, she said.

Justo had himself given the same account to media. The Thai government is obliged to provide vivid clarifications on key facts: Was Justo coerced into confessing, why were FBI's requests denied and an imposter allowed to handle negotiation?

In her allegation, Ms Pannika also pointed out that the Swiss government's request to have Justo extradited was also denied, even though Thailand has an extradition agreement with Switzerland. Another issue of contention is the fact that the Interior Ministry has blacklisted Justo for 100 years, which the former MP said was unusually harsh.

The Corrections Department issued a statement on Monday saying Justo could not be extradited because he still had more than a year of his sentence to serve, while police just repeated existing facts about the case.

Another key player in the case is Malaysian financier Jho Low, who was accused by the US government of masterminding the theft of billions of dollars from the fund and has been the subject of an Interpol red notice since 2016. Yet, Low had been able to get in and out of Thailand at least five times between 2016 and 2018 and enjoy lavish breaks in Bangkok and Phuket under the protection of police, Ms Pannika alleged. She also asked why the Immigration Department had even allowed him in.

All that the Immigration Department has told the press so far is that its computer system information had not appeared with Interpol until April last year. That hardly puts the question to rest.

At this point, Gen Prayut should realise that he owes the public an explanation about what exactly happened under his watch in relation to the 1MDB scandal, and stop threatening to slap Ms Pannika with lawsuits.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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