BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court on Monday sentenced a Swiss man to three years in prison after convicting him of blackmailing his former employer, a Saudi oil exploration company, by threatening to reveal stolen documents.
The case has drawn the greatest interest in Malaysia, because documents said to have been leaked by Xavier Justo allegedly revealed links between a financial scandal and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Justo's original six-year sentence was cut in half after he pleaded guilty Monday at a Bangkok court. He had been arrested on June 22 on the Thai resort island of Samui, where he kept a residence.
The court case focused narrowly on whether Justo, 49, demanded money from PetroSaudi International not to reveal information in files he downloaded from a company computer. He had been an executive in the company's IT section.
However, Thai police have said Justo confessed that he handed over documents involving PetroSaudi's dealings with Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, to a London-based Malaysian anti-government news website, Sarawak Report. 1MDB has been in severe financial distress.
The Thai court's judgment said that Justo had agreed to keep corporate information confidential when his employment at the Saudi company was terminated, but then threatened to sell the information he had if they did not pay him 2.5 million Swiss Francs ($2.6 million). He was said to have told Thai police that he handed over documents to representatives of Sarawak Report in expectation of payment, but did not receive any money from them.
"Even though the defendant was not paid, his wrongdoing is considered severe in that it could lead to damaging" PetroSaudi's business, the court said.
Interest in Justo's case became intense last month when Sarawak Report and The Wall Street Journal published allegations that almost $700 million in 1MDB funds had been transferred in 2013 to bank accounts apparently controlled by Prime Minister Najib ahead of a general election. Najib has denied any wrongdoing, and called the leaking of documents a political plot against him.
Malaysian officials allege that the documents published by Sarawak Report were altered from those originally in PetroSaudi's files to make the government look bad.