SINGAPORE (June 4): The Straits Times (ST) editor Warren Fernandez, in response to my article “Hidden hands, spin and the truth”, is standing by the reporting done by his correspondent Nirmal Ghosh. Nirmal has also defended his work in getting the interview with Xavier Andre Justo in a Bangkok jail in July 2015.

Before I respond to them, I would like to state that the term “hidden hands” that I used did not refer to the Singapore government as suggested in some social media postings. This has nothing to do with the Singapore government.

It has to do with how ST reported and published a story based on an interview with Justo that he has since said he was forced to do and in which he was forced to say things that were not true about The Edge, our chairman Tong Kooi Ong and Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown.

Justo has said he was pressured by PetroSaudi executive director Patrick Mahony and Paul Finnegan, a British man who claimed he was a Scotland Yard detective but has since been revealed to be a private detective.

Nirmal in his reply, as reported in ST on May 27, insisted that he dealt with only the lawyer who was representing Justo. He did not name the lawyer, but we can name him as Worasit Piriyawiboon, who was appointed by PetroSaudi — a company that has been accused of stealing more than US$1 billion ($1.3 billion) from Malaysian state-owned company 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

According to Justo, however, Nirmal had interviewed him in the presence of Finnegan. Lawyer Worasit was not in the room. It was just Justo, Nirmal and Finnegan.

“Mr Mahony left before the arrival of the journalist from The Straits Times and, during the interview, I was alone with the journalist and Mr Paul Finnegan. This interview lasted for around 30 minutes. They left the prison together after the interview was finished,” Justo said in an email to us. “I was specifically instructed to blame myself, Mr Tong and Clare Rewcastle, as well as the Malaysian opposition, and [to] never ever mention [Low Taek Jho] or Mr Najib Razak. I also had to declare that the data could have been tampered with, and that this was done for political reasons. I also had to say that I was sorry, and that I did that only for the money and that I was very well treated in prison. I had a few hours to be prepared on what to answer to [Nirmal’s] questions. I did what I was told to do.”

In what capacity was Finnegan present at the interview? Was he there to ensure Justo spoke according to script? Did Nirmal question Finnegan’s presence? Who else was Nirmal in contact with in connection with the interview when he was in Bangkok?

We are confident that the truth and further details will emerge from the various ongoing investigations now underway.

Ho Kay Tat
Publisher of The Edge Media Group