The pattern of attempting to buy influence in high places by those under scrutiny over 1MDB has extended to Switzerland, according to news reports this weekend that money paid to a Swiss investigator via the firm PetroSaudi has been frozen by the authorities on grounds of a money laundering alert.
The investigator is a close associate of Switzerland’s Attorney General, says Tribune de Geneve.
A wealth of detail has already emerged over how ex-PM Najib Razak’s fixer at the fund, Jho Low, has sought to make vast payments to fundraisers close to both Donald Trump and Barak Obama. Just Friday one of Jho’s cash conduits, the rapper Pras Michel, was apparently charged with illegally contributing funds to pro-Obama organizations without disclosing their foreign origin.
Now, the Swiss newspaper Tribune de Geneve has scooped a story about Jho’s associates Tarek Obaid and Patrick Mahony, who were directors of 1MDB joint venture partner PetroSaudi, that will make life uncomfortable for the country’s Attorney General, who until recently claimed considerable credit for vigorously prosecuting the 1MDB scandal.
The allegations centre on a close friend and former colleague of AG Michael Lauber, René Brülhart, whose private investigation company apparently received payments of 2.5 million euros from PetroSaudi, as recently as 2016-17 when the company was under investigation by the Swiss authorities.
The legal action by the Swiss relating to PetroSaudi’s role in the 1MDB mega-thefts and the part played by company executives in the subsequent campaign of villification and imprisonment in Thailand of the Swiss whistleblower Xavier Justo, has unfortunately started to noticeably lag after original charges were filed, with very little progress apparently being made over the past two years.
Frozen Money Came Originally From 1MDB?
The owner of PetroSaudi, Tarek Obaid, whose former partner at PetroSaudi, Prince Turki Abdullah, languishes in custody on corruption charges in Saudi Arabia, has displayed ostentatious wealth since the conclusion of the 1MDB ‘joint venture’ back in 2009.
Obaid has taken refuge primarily in Switzerland (he has reportedly obtained citizenship) and has remained at large enjoying a lavish life. Just in recent days he was spotted out on the town again in Geneva, partying at 5 star joints with his crowd of friends.
Yet prior to the deal with 1MDB, his discussions with his bank primarily concerned how to deal with his maxed out credit facilities, according to sources and documents seen by Sarawak Report.
Meanwhile his former partner, Saudi Prince Turki bin Abdullah, has been cited in recent court proceedings against Najib as being the supposed benefactor cited to AmBank, who claimed to have ‘donated’ the then prime minister RM2.6 billion, money that was in fact traced to 1MDB.
PetroSaudi was 1MDB’s partner in first joint venture project undertaken by the fund, which raised US$1.8 billion supposedly then invested in projects associated with PetroSaudi – a paper company with few active assets prior to the deal.
Sarawak Report has revealed that US$700 million was immediately siphoned off from that investment into Jho Low’s own company Good Star and that Jho Low subsequently sent a payment to Tarek Obaid of US$85 million, a third of which was then passed on to Tarek’s associate and later co-director, UK citizen Patrick Mahony (Mahony has since purchased a multi-million pound mansion in London’s Nottinghill and constructed himself a chalet at Switzerland’s top ski resort Gstaad).
Hundreds of millions more in cash have passed through PetroSaudi in subsequent years, including mysterious multi-million dollar payments made to Tarek directly by Jho Low from his 1MDB funded bank accounts in Singapore.
On key occasions after the 1MDB scandal errupted PetroSaudi and Obaid gave testimony that claimed falsely that Good Star belonged to PetroSaudi, implying that all the money invested in the joint venture was paid into their company rather than to the actual owner of Good Star, who was Jho Low. The explanation for the US$700 million that went to Good Star was that it was a repayment of a fictitious loan allegedly made by PetroSaudi to the joint venture company.
The later involvement of PetroSaudi director Patrick Mahony in orchestrating the arrest, imprisonment and forced confessions of former PetroSaudi executive Xavier Justo, who leaked information about the affair, has also been fully documented by Sarawak Report. Justo has now been released and subsequently pressed his own litany of charges against Obaid and Mahony for crimes including conspiracy against him and false imprisonment.
The Swiss state took up these charges along with a list of others that included money-laundering and bribery of foreign officials. Yet, two years after that development there has been little action, despite the volumes of evidence available to the Swiss authorities and the presence of Obaid in Switzerland (the Saudi national apparently no longer dares travel back to Saudi Arabia).
It is clear that like Jho Low, Obaid and his associates have poured large sums of money into hiring teams of lawyers and PR professionals to manage coverage of the story, advocate their position and harass journalists seeking to report on the situation (including Sarawak Report which has been the target of aggressive legal action and sustained defamation linked to PetroSaudi).
Today, it has emerged, according to Tribune de Geneve, that included in those companies for hire is TD International part belonging René Brülhart, who controls financial security at the Vatican and used to work with Michael Lauber.
Among their clients, TD International and René Brülhart had Petrosaudi and its co-founder Tarek Obaid. Based in London, Riyadh and, at the time of the facts, Geneva, Petrosaudi is believed to have played a central role in the $ 1.8 billion hijacking of the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB between 2009 and 2012. Tarek Obaid and Petrosaudi contest any irregularity and benefit at this stage of the proceedings from the presumption of innocence. Professional services It was in autumn 2015, when the opening of a Swiss investigation in this case was revealed, that Petrosaudi and Obaid hired TD International. In 2016 and 2017, Petrosaudi paid him around 2.5 million francs. In 2017, Tarek Obaid paid another 50,000 francs to René Brülhart's private company, RnB. Why pay so much money? In invoices that Tamedia's cell survey has been able to consult, it is simply a question of "professional services". Neither René Brülhart nor Petrosaudi wanted to comment on the reason for the payments. René Brülhart assures that he "meets the highest standards of integrity and confidentiality in all his mandates" and that he can not speak of his clients. In a written statement, he rejects "any speculation about my involvement or my involvement in the 1MDB case, or in any improper or punishable activities". Sensitive case But the Swiss bank that received Petrosaudi's payments to René Brülhart and his companies had doubts about these transactions. She reported them to the Money Laundering Reporting Office, MROS. In September 2018, the latter alerted the Public Ministry of Confederation, which blocked money, according to a spokesman. [Translated from Tribune de Geneve"]
There is no evidence that any attempts to influence the Swiss proceedings have been any more successful than Jho Low’s attempts to bribe officials in the United States. However, the episode has placed pressure and questions on the Swiss authorities at an unwelcome moment.
1MDB is one of the major cases being handled by the AG’s office and the paper observes that Lauber is in the middle of handling a separate embarrassment over its other major case, namely the FIFA enquiry.
Read an English translation of the article:
Strange relationship between Petrosaudi PR and the Swiss Attorney General:
Saturday 11 May 2019 22:01
Swiss justice blocks money from Lauber friend
The companies of Friborg’s René Brülhart, close to the Attorney General of the Confederation, have received millions from a suspect in the huge financial scandal 1MDB
René Brülhart and Michael Lauber have known each other for 20 years. They worked for years together in Liechstenstein
By Christian Brönnimann and Thomas Knellwolf:
This is a case that would have gone well the Attorney General of the Confederation Michael Lauber, already weakened by the investigations on FIFA. One of his old friends, Vatican financial policeman René Brülhart, saw funds from his companies blocked by the Swiss courts after a report by the anti-money laundering authority.
The money comes from an oil company, Petrosaudi, suspected of massive embezzlement in the case of the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. This is one of the most important cases investigated by the Public Ministry of Confederation, led by the same Michael Lauber. In 2016 and 2017, Petrosaudi paid some 2.5 million francs in fees to René Brülhart’s companies.
In the small world of specialists fighting against money laundering, René Brülhart is a celebrity. Stylish, elegant and eloquent, this 46-year-old Friborg has been dubbed the “James Bond” of finance in the Vatican. He presided over the financial authority of the Holy See, cleaned up the opaque finances of the Vatican bank, and from 2010 to 2012 was vice-president of the Egmont Group, a club of anti-money-laundering authorities around the world.
Super Intelligence Officer
He and Michael Lauber have known each other for 20 years, having worked together to create the Liechtenstein Anti-Money Laundering Authority. They have since remained friends. “They meet episodically in a private setting,” says a spokeswoman for the Federal Public Ministry.
In addition to serving the Vatican, René Brülhart is also a kind of super-private intelligence agent, advising large clients in sensitive financial matters. He is a partner of TD International, which is known to be close to US intelligence services. Its founder William Green describes it as a “discreet business of strategic advice and risk management”.
Among their clients, TD International and René Brülhart had Petrosaudi and its co-founder Tarek Obaid. Based in London, Riyadh and, at the time of the facts, Geneva, Petrosaudi is believed to have played a central role in the $ 1.8 billion hijacking of the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB between 2009 and 2012. Tarek Obaid and Petrosaudi contest any irregularity and benefit at this stage of the proceedings from the presumption of innocence.
It was in autumn 2015, when the opening of a Swiss investigation in this case was revealed, that Petrosaudi and Obaid hired TD International. In 2016 and 2017, Petrosaudi paid him around 2.5 million francs. In 2017, Tarek Obaid paid another 50,000 francs to René Brülhart’s private company, RnB.
Why pay so much money?
In invoices that Tamedia’s cell survey has been able to consult, it is simply a question of “professional services”. Neither René Brülhart nor Petrosaudi wanted to comment on the reason for the payments. René Brülhart assures that he “meets the highest standards of integrity and confidentiality in all his mandates” and that he can not speak of his clients. In a written statement, he rejects “any speculation about my involvement or my involvement in the 1MDB case, or in any improper or punishable activities”.
But the Swiss bank that received Petrosaudi’s payments to René Brülhart and his companies had doubts about these transactions. She reported them to the Money Laundering Reporting Office, MROS. In September 2018, the latter alerted the Public Ministry of Confederation, which blocked money, according to a spokesman.
René Brülhart points out that he has not been charged, nor his companies, by any judicial authority in Switzerland. According to him, it happens that justice blocks accounts of third parties “which have nothing to do with the alleged facts and are absolutely not suspected of punishable facts”.
By his own admission, the Public Ministry of the Confederation took a long time to realize the sensitivity of the case. It was not until January 2019 that the internal control and management, so Michael Lauber, were alerted. And this “because of the official function of René Brülhart in the field of the fight against money laundering,” that is to say, his position in the Vatican. It is unclear what the MPC subsequently made suspicions from the bank.
Contact with secret services
There remains a central question: by hiring René Brülhart’s company, did Petrosaudi seek direct contact with the Attorney General of the Confederation? In early 2018, according to the newspaper Le Temps, Petrosaudi had discussed with the Federal Public Ministry the possibility of concluding a sentence negotiated in the file 1MDB. This simplified procedure requires a certain leniency on the part of the judiciary and saves the convicted persons a proper trial.
But this deal never succeeded. And the Public Ministry of the Confederation ensures that the Attorney General never speaks about proceedings in private meetings. Michael Lauber has never met with Petrosaudi executives or their lawyers, says the MPC.
On the other hand, it is certain that Tarek Obaid sought to get closer to the Swiss authorities. In another article, Le Temps revealed that Tarek Obaid had met for months in 2017, agents of the Confederation Intelligence Service and the number two of the service, Paul Zinniker. In order to conciliate the good graces of the federal authorities and, ideally, to put an end to the lawsuits against the leaders of Petrosaudi. Our research shows that René Brülhart was present at a secret meeting between Paul Zinniker and Tarek Obaid at Zurich Airport.
Neither René Brülhart nor the SRC want to comment on this episode. Regarding the compatibility between the Petrosaudi payments and his mandate for the pope, the Friborg believes that “without respect for laws and ethical standards”, it would be “impossible for him to assume in a credible way” the presidency of the financial authority of the Vatican.
Collaboration: Oliver Zihlmann and Catherine Boss
source: Tribune de Genève