2020 Whistleblower of the Year Candidate – Xavier Justo
In 2018, headlines circulated the globe when the election results in Malaysia saw the former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s fall from power, and the investigation into the 1MDB scandal was finally reopened. It is estimated that over $4.5 billion dollars was embezzled from a government-run strategic development fund. Vast sums were borrowed through government bonds and siphoned into bank accounts in the US, Switzerland, and Singapore, including over $700 million appearing in a personal bank account held by Razak.
Xavier Justo, a Swiss businessman with Spanish ancestry, was one of the Directors of Petro Saudi’s London office. Petro Saudi had been courting 1MDB officials for some time until it was finally able to execute a multi-billion-dollar joint venture in late 2009. Justo was brought after the deal and was signed to help manage Petro Saudi’s business portfolio in emerging markets. He left the company in 2011 after a business dispute with Petro Saudi’s co-founder Tarek Obaid. Upon departing the company, Justo took copies of company emails and left for Thailand. Little did Justo know that these documents contained bombshell evidence of financial fraud and the laundering of billions of dollars.
In the end of 2014, Justo was approached by prominent Malaysian newspaper, The Edge, and British investigative journalist, Clare Rewcastle Brown. Despite serious security concerns, Justo disclosed more than 227,000 Petro Saudi emails helping unveil one of the biggest corruption cases in recorded history.
Justo became a target of Razak and his associates. Soon thereafter, he was arrested in Thailand on charges of blackmail, a tactic typically deployed to silence and intimidate whistleblowers. Threatened with the prospects of spending 10 years in jail, Justo was coerced into signing a confession and sentenced to six years in jail.
Thanks to the unconditional support and love of his wife, Justo brought media attention to his wrongful conviction, reached out to Swiss and US authorities, and was able to secure a release after 18 months in jail. Time proved Justo was right all along. In July 2020, Razak was sentenced to 12 years in jail for his role in the looting and embezzlement of the 1MDB fund.
As a result of his disclosures, like many whistleblowers before him, Justo paid a high personal price. Indeed, whistleblowers who shine light on covert and illegal practices often face retaliation, isolation, and great distress, both personal and professional. When asked if he would do it again, and if he had any advice for future whistleblowers, Justo explained: ‘There is no teaching… it was a good thing to do, but it was done in a very bad way, I put my family at risk – I made my friends and family suffer because I did it by myself. Now, you have lawyers, you have structures to help you. If one day in your life you are involved in this and you have a choice to make; do what is good, do what you think you have to do, do what your father taught you to do. But you have to seek the advice of professionals, competent people, because there are many risks. I would have done it again, and I will do it again, but using specialized people. I would not have gone to jail. My son is six years old and I haven’t seen him for a quarter of his life…this is something they took from me.’
For his courage, integrity, and determination, we nominate Xavier Justo for the 2020 Whistleblower of the Year.
Whistleblower attorney Carolina Gonzalez interviews Xavier Justo
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