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Swiss man tied to Malay 1MBD scandal freed from Thai prison

by December 20, 2016 General

A Swiss man convicted of blackmail linked to a Malaysian financial scandal was freed Tuesday after serving over a year in a Thai prison.

Xavier Justo was one of around 30,000 inmates released early under a pardon by Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradevarangkun to mark his ascension to the throne on Dec. 1. Justo’s lawyer said his client will be deported to Switzerland.

Justo was convicted in August 2015 of blackmailing his former employer, a Saudi oil exploration company, by threatening to sell to the media documents related to the company’s dealings with Malaysia’s 1MDB state development fund unless the company paid him $2.47 million.

The 1MDB fund has been the focus of investigations in the U.S., Switzerland, Singapore, and other countries over allegations of a global embezzlement and money-laundering scheme.

The U.S. Justice Department says people close to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak stole at least $3.5 billion from 1MDB, which was meant to promote economic development projects. The department acted in July to seize $1.3 billion it says was diverted from the fund to buy assets in the U.S. Najib has stymied government investigations into the fund, denies any wrongdoing and rejects calls for his resignation.

Thai police had said Justo confessed to handing over documents to Sarawak Report, a London-based news website opposing the Malaysian government. He was originally set to be jailed for six years, then his sentence was halved for pleading guilty and commuted further for good behavior. Stories in Sarawak Report and The Wall Street Journal first revealed the fund’s problems.

Justo, who said he’s “very happy” about the release, cannot board a plane back home immediately because he needs to buy a ticket and sort out paperwork, but Justo’s lawyer said he’ll probably return home before Christmas. He is meanwhile being held at Bangkok’s immigration detention center.