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Tue 1 May 2018 01:48 PM

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Swiss 1MDB case widens with criminal probe into PetroSaudi officials

Investigation into two officials on suspicion of criminal mismanagement, fraud, bribery and aggravated money laundering

Swiss 1MDB case widens with criminal probe into PetroSaudi officials
1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

Swiss prosecutors widened their probe into allegations of corruption at Malaysian development fund 1MDB, opening criminal proceedings to look into two officials of Saudi Arabian oil producer PetroSaudi who were allegedly tied to the affair.

The investigation into the pair on suspicion of criminal mismanagement, fraud, bribery and aggravated money laundering began in November 2017 but “certain measures taken against the two officials and a risk of collusion” prevented the Swiss Attorney General’s office from disclosing the news, it said Tuesday in an e-mail.

The probe into the PetroSaudi International employees was reported earlier by the Financial Times.

Swiss, US and Singaporean authorities have conducted several years of investigations into allegations that more than $3 billion was diverted from 1 Malaysia Development, originally intended as an investment fund to foster economic development across Malaysia.

Officials at 1MDB and others, under the pretense of investing about $1 billion in a joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi, instead transferred about $700 million to an account not associated with PetroSaudi, the US Justice Department alleged in a 2016 seizure order.

Leaked documents showed that about $700 million may have moved through government agencies and companies linked to 1MDB before appearing in the personal accounts of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. News of that in August 2015 at sent hundreds of thousands Malaysians onto the streets of Kuala Lumpur to vent their rage — much of it directed at Najib. Najib said that the $681 million that ended up in his accounts it was a political donation from a royal family in Saudi Arabia and that most of it was returned.

A call to PetroSaudi’s London offices wasn’t immediately returned. The company has previously denied wrongdoing.

A former PetroSaudi executive, Xavier Justo was sentenced in August 2015 to three years by a Bangkok court for attempting to blackmail the company over ties to 1MDB. His term was later cut to two years and then he was allowed to return to his native Switzerland after being released from a Bangkok prison in December 2016, after lobbying from the Swiss Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Justo filed a criminal complaint that he was pressured into pleading guilty by Petrosaudi officials, according to the newspaper. The Swiss Attorney General’s office declined to confirm the substance of the complaint, saying only that it is still being analyzed as it dates from March.

Christian Luescher, Justo’s lawyer in Geneva, is traveling this week and isn’t immediately available to comment, his assistant said.

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