Elias Hj Idris
Politics | October 24, 2016 by |

Too Rich, Too Young, Too Fast: How The Billions of 1MDB Turned The Heads of Those Who Touched It

The debacle of the Malaysian sovereign fund 1MDB represents the financial scandal of the decade. At the heart of this case of plundering and corruption, is a group of Swiss residents, who enjoyed partying together before everything went wrong. It’s a story of a friendship shattered by too fast a fortune.

They were promised a bright future in finance. The Genevans Xavier Justo and the Saudi Tarek Obaid, who grew up in the city of Calvin, were like two fingers, trained in victory. Until a torrent of money falling from the sky smashed their friendship: sending one to a Thai prison and the other to the heart of the financial scandal of the decade. 1MDB.

This week, Singapore and the Swiss financial watchdog (FINMA) punished the Swiss based Falcon Private Bank for its involvement in the misappropriation of billions of dollars belonging to the Malaysian sovereign fund. Another Swiss bank, BSI bank was forcibly dissolved in May. The Finance Ministry of the Confederation (MPC) has frozen several millions of francs suspected to be involved in the 1MDB affair.

The American Department of Justice has filed a civil complaint against those allegedly responsible for this misuse of public funds, initiating the freezing of more than a billion of doubtful assets worldwide. A record.

Among the key players in the case: PetroSaudi, a company established in Geneva, yet completely unheard of before this affair.

Ferrari and endurance sports

Long before they became directors, Xavier and Tarek met in the early 1990s. They worked together in the Scandinavian Bank of Geneva and for Piguet, before joining Fininfor, a small wealth management firm. The former co-directed this come. The second rented space there for his company PetroSaudi, set up in Geneva with the support of friends.

Rental contract

Xavier Justo at that time was also a part-owner of a couple of nightclubs Platinum and the Z Cube. He drove a Ferrari and enjoyed endurance sports. A self-taught man now 50 years old, this son of Spanish emigrants built his career without a university education.

Despite his many tattoos, Xavier was a role model for Tarek, who was 10 years younger, less experienced but equally ambitious. The young Saudi had the advantage of connections: he became close to Prince Turki bin Abdullah Al Saud (45), seventh son of the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Likewise he was close to the Ojjeh family, the owners of the Genevan private jet company TAG Aviation, thanks to an earlier relationship with an heiress of this powerful family. In addition, Tarek claims today, according to his resume, to be a “private adviser to the Saudi Crown” and to hold “an important network of contacts within the Gulf Cooperation Council.”

Born into a wealthy family, the young Obaid arrived in Geneva in 1982. He attended the International School before obtaining a degree from the American University of Georgetown (Saudi campus). In a letter of recommendation for admission to the Faculty, the former US Ambassador Walter Cutler described him as a member of one of “the leading families of Saudi Arabia.” The grandfather of Tariq had held ministerial duties in the Kingdom before founding the first printed newspapers in the country, eventually becoming a well-known writer.

Tarek Obaid was also eager to come up in the world. He suffered from the bankruptcy of his father. “He had been a successful businessman, active in trade promotion between the Middle East and Switzerland, in particular via the Obteco company based in Geneva. But he ended his career leaving nothing for his family”, says an anonymous source close to the clan Obaid. Tarek’s father lost everything in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

So these two Genevois are not from the same background, but they shared the same desire for success and a taste for risk-taking. Then came the economic crisis of 2008. “My husband dropped everything because of the economic conditions, says Laura Justo, the wife of Xavier. He did not flee because he had problems with his employer, as has been claimed by PetroSaudi”.

The couple started a new life in Asia, exploring the continent in search of the ideal base. Almost two years passed. Until one day Xavier received an unexpected call. “It was Tarek”, Laura recalls. “My husband was offered a directorships for the new operating center of PetroSaudi in London”. This was the British branch of the Geneva-based company, whose official headquarters are in Riyadh, although we have not found any trace of it in the Register of the Saudi companies.

Today the company is suspected of having played a role in the disappearance of some $700 million, through a partnership formed in 2009 – the year of the opening of its offices in London – with 1MDB, the sovereign wealth fund controlled by the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The money concerned – a loan from 1MDB loan which was never repaid – was channelled into the account offshore of the company Good Star, claimed to belong to PetroSaudi, according to official statements signed by Tarek. But in reality, says the American official complaint, that amount ended up in the pockets of the Malaysian businessman Jho Low who, as Xavier Justo later wrote, is none other than the “money maker” of Najib Razak, and his wife Rosmah Mansor. For their part, PetroSaudi claimed to have paid back all they owned, including interest, to the Malaysian sovereign fund.