BANGKOK (AP) — A Swiss man connected with Malaysia’s massive 1MDB financial scandal is expected to be freed from a Thai prison under a royal pardon applying to thousands of inmates, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Worasit Piriyawiboon said Xavier Justo was covered by the pardon issued by King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradevarangkun because he has less than a year left to serve.
Justo was convicted in August last year of blackmailing his former employer, a Saudi oil exploration company, by threatening to reveal stolen documents. The court said Justo had agreed to keep corporate information confidential when his employment at PetroSaudi International was terminated, but then threatened to sell the information he had if they did not pay him 2.5 million Swiss Francs ($2.47 million).
Police said Justo confessed to handing over documents involving the oil company’s dealings with Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, to a London-based Malaysian anti-government news website, Sarawak Report. He was arrested at a residence he maintained on the Thai resort island of Samui. His six-year sentence was cut in half because he pleaded guilty, and in August this year was commuted for good behavior to serve only an additional 11 months.
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The 1MDB fund has been at the center of investigations in the U.S. and several countries over allegations of a global embezzlement and money-laundering scheme. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak started the fund shortly after taking office in 2009 to promote economic development projects, but the fund accumulated billions in debt.
The U.S. Justice Department says at least $3.5 billion has been stolen from 1MDB by people close to Najib and initiated action in July to seize $1.3 billion it says was taken from the fund to buy assets in the U.S.
“Thai inmates who received the royal pardons are expected to be released on Dec 15. Justo is expected to be released shortly after that and he should be able to go home before Christmas,” said lawyer Worasit, explaining that Thai inmates usually receive their pardons ahead of foreigners.
“Thai law does not allow Justo to stay in Thailand after his release and it is policy to send foreign inmates who have been released back to their home country,” he said.
Around 120,000 inmates are eligible to have their sentences cut and around 30,000 inmates could be eligible for pardons, Kobkiat Kasivivat, deputy director-general of Thailand’s Corrections Department, said Tuesday. The pardons, decreed Saturday, mark the recent ascension to the throne of King Vajiralongkorn after the Oct. 13 death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
This story has been corrected to show that his name is Xavier Justo instead of Augusto Xavier Justo.