On October 23rd the latest paid PR campaign against Sarawak Report swung into its ‘new media’ phase.
We have seen it all before.
On that day a new Facebook site called ‘The Real Clare Rewcastle’ appeared online, replete with expensively commissioned cartoon videos denouncing the editor of Sarawak Report as a “liar”, “forger” and “activist posing as a journalist”.
Furthermore, it alleged that she had been paid by interested parties to work to “topple a democratically elected Prime Minister”.
On the self same day a bogus Facebook and Twitter army of non-existent characters also made their debut to promote the videos and attack Sarawak Report.
Supposedly, the characters came from different countries, ages and backgrounds.
However, they are ‘followed’ by the same handful of organisations (including dating agencies) and share the same handful of links.
These October 23rd Tweeters and Facebook characters are all obsessed with the same issue, which is to encourage people to go and read the new Facebook site libelling Sarawak Report.
The motley crowd of allegedly unconnected fake people have also developed a parallel obsession with passing round an allegation that Sarawak Report is paid by none other than the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis.
Why Novartis would wish to pay for an alleged plot to “topple a democratically elected Prime Minister” remains unexplained, however the company is unpopular with certain environmental groups, who appear to be targeted in an attempt to undermine support for Sarawak Report.
It is, of course, all entirely untrue.
Nevertheless, the Facebook site is ‘promoted’ content, which means that Facebook is being paid to direct it towards as wide a circle as possible of interested people – eg all Malaysians.
‘Ella’ (left) and her small army of fake friends have also started trying to harass anyone involved with Sarawak Report, in order to attempt to undermine their own separate contacts.
The sponsors of the site have remained anonymous, of course, to avoid being held accountable for their blatantly libellous content.
The UMNO communications boss, Rahman Dahlan, of Lester Melanyi fame would doubtless have approved of this whole cunning ruse to attack this website, but the finger points elsewhere on this occasion.
A fortnight or so earlier Sarawak Report had received warnings that a Swiss PR firm was ringing round the UK looking for a partner in a ‘dirty campaign’ against Clare Rewcastle.
The campaign was to involve material gained from her whatsap communications with Xavier Justo, the ex-PetroSaudi Director who had passed her a copy of that company’s database, including the details of the 1MDB PetroSaudi joint venture involving the theft of US$1.83 billion dollars from Malaysia.
Most UK PR companies declined to be involved in this grubby job, but where there is money there is always an eventual taker.
So who was the Swiss PR organising this campaign in the UK, which appears to be now manifesting itself in The Real Clare Rewcastle Facebook page and the British made videos attacking SR?
It is well known amongst Swiss journalists that the man handling matters supposedly on behalf of Xavier Justo in Switzerland over past weeks has been the PR spokesman Marc Comina, who has represented a variety of wealthy people in trouble.
Other clients of Comina include the former Kazakh Minister of Energy; an art dealer who is presently accused of stealing paintings from Piccaso’s daughter and a Swiss wine producer accused by the authorities of breaking rules.
In a number of these cases Comina has worked together with a well-known and expensive Geneva lawyer named Marc Henzelin and sure enough Henzelin is also engaged alongside Comina to represent Xavier Justo in Switzerland regarding his present incarceration in a Bangkok jail.
As Malaysians all know, Justo was arrested in Bangkok because he was denounced by his former colleagues at PetroSaudi for leaking their database and they accused him of blackmail.
The question is how has Justo suddenly acquired the money to hire this expensive PR and legal team in Switzerland and what are they actually up to, supposedly on his behalf?
Sarawak Report has learnt that Comina has spoken extensively to selected Swiss journalists about Justo – some were granted exclusive access to fly to Thailand and visit the former PetroSaudi director, who had expected to be freed after confessing to what he understood were minor charges for attempted extortion – but instead received a three year jail sentence.
This lengthy sentence was thanks not least to the aggressive lobbying by PetroSaudi and 1MDB, who are together trying to also discredit the leaked material in Sarawak Report.
Comina has made clear to journalists that he and Henzelin’s current advice to Justo is to confess to being a blackmailer and to apologise to the Malaysian Prime Minister for the embarrassment caused by the PetroSaudi revelations.
Furthermore, Justo is being encouraged to allege that he was the victim of a plot by Sarawak Report to entice him to provide what he is now portraying as innocent material in the PetroSaudi database (“just some emails”) so that we could supposedly ‘doctor’ it to give a bad impression.
“My client has the impression he was used and manipulated” Henzelin told Le Temps.
Sarawak Report’s motive, according to the new Justo narrative, was not to expose a huge crime and a massive international story, but to carry out an ‘opposition plot’ to “topple a democratically elected Prime Minister”, for which they imply we were paid by ‘opposition forces’ (including Novartis?).
Thus, according to Marc Comina’s present PR, poor Xavier Justo had no idea what was in the material he first used to blackmail PetroSaudi and then was trying to sell for US$2 million.
He and Mr Henzelin have gone even further, to libellously imply that Sarawak Report is an unscrupulous forger.
This is what Mr Henzelin told the Chief Reporter of the newspaper Le Temps, Sylvain Besson in an ‘exclusive interview’ granted last month, during which the lawyer also takes the opportunity to promote the image of PetroSaudi:
“Besson: PetroSaudi is it a reputable company? Or a simple facade?
Henzelin: I am not a lawyer for PetroSaudi, but it is common knowledge that this is a serious oil company, not an empty shell. They have oil blocks and drill ships they operate.
Besson: Xavier Justo he knew what use the documents he handed over would be to Malaysian opposition? These documents were they altered before publication, as stated PetroSaudi?
Henzelin: My client has attended meetings where the Malaysian opposition and Clare Rewcastle Brown clearly evoked the political use they intend to make the documents they had not read. He considers that the documents have been used unscrupulous way and that some have been changed. But to what extent, what volume, he does not know. What is certain is that he has the impression of having been used, handled. In addition, he has not been paid, so he’s a little angry. [Google Translate]
Mr Besson never approached Sarawak Report for our comment on these accusations, although he had our number. If he had asked, we could have confirmed that the story about a meeting between Justo, Brown and the Malaysian opposition is a complete lie.
So is the claim about forgery.
We would have added that while Mr Henzelin denies he is serving the interests of PetroSaudi, the entire PR-managed interview with Le Temps plainly serves that company’s interests above all others.
Since Justo had very limited funds by the time he was arrested and since similar engagements with the Swiss Press by the Comina/ Henzelin team have promoted the same line ‘on behalf of their client’, we therefore question who is ultimately financing Comina, Henzelin and all this PR?
What is certain is that Justo has now reconciled with PetroSaudi and has told visiting journalists that the man who originally denounced him and got him jailed in Bangkok, PetroSaudi’s Director Patrick Mahony, has now visited him behind bars and agreed to ‘help him get out’.
What a very nice chap after all?
Meanwhile, Mr Comina has been circulating certain extra materials to his chosen contacts journalists, which include copies of whatsap messages between Justo and and the editor of Sarawak Report and also of Justo’s ‘confessions’ made without a lawyer present after he was arrested.
We have evidence that these materials were passed to Le Temps and other selected Swiss newspapers.
These whatsap messages and ‘confessions’ were also what was offered to the PR companies in the UK who were being recruited to conduct a dirty campaign against Sarawak Report.
And the same materials are exactly what are now being used out of context as the main ‘evidence’ behind the smear campaign and videos featured on ‘The Real Clare Rewcastle’ Facebook site.
For the record, Clare Rewcastle did not pay Justo any money; did not receive any money from the opposition or anyone paying Justo and only agreed in principle to try to assist Mr Justo achieve a promised third party payment for his story, as long as process was entirely legal. In the event no payment ever took place.
These private messages obtained from Justo’s law case are now being used selectively and out of context, in order to smear Sarawak Report and distract from the real crime, which was the theft by PetroSaudi and Jho Low of US$1.83 billion dollars.
So, who do we think is behind that?
When we wrote to Mr Comina earlier this week and asked him if he was linked to the anonymous and libellous Facebook and Twitter campaigns, which are employing and distorting the very same material he also supplied to journalists, he failed to reply.
On the other hand, the Le Temps senior reporter who obtained that exclusive interview with lawyer Marc Henzelin, has roundly denied to Sarawak Report that he was aware of any PR manipulation in the genesis of his newspapers stories about Justo.
Sylvain Besson last week told Sarawak Report in a series of messages:
“I’d be glad to know which PR firm is conducting actions against you, so we can be aware of its actions and possible disinformation…”
“…. I can assure you we never heard of any PR firm disseminating material. They didn’t give it to us, at least. So we are still interested to know who they are, and to what extent they manipulate Justo’s lawyer and PR man.
On the other hand Besson acknowledged:
“….I confirm we’ll publish a story based on the messages exchanged between you and Xavier Justo”
These remarks were in response to a complaint by Sarawak Report, after one of Besson’s team, commissioned to write yet another critical item about Sarawak Report’s involvement with Justo explained:
“my mandate is to show our readers an example of transaction between someone who stole confidential data and people that agreed to pay for it.
There shall be no consideration about the situation in Malaysia, per se.
It is just a story about a Swiss guy who got trapped by trying to sell leaks.”
So who and what has determined Le Temp’s “mandate”, if a major international financial scandal involving Swiss banks is to be thus ignored, we asked Besson?
And why was Mr Besson denying he had any knowledge of the hostile PR management behind Justo and his lawyer, given that other journalists were well aware that Marc Comina is the only way to reach the story and obtain these Whatsap messages and “confessions’ from Justo?
We find it particularly odd given that Besson rates Comina as his number 4 best friend on Facebook:
Sarawak Report therefore agrees that Justo is being manipulated.
However, we suggest that the manipulators are his wealthy and unscrupulous former colleagues, from PetroSaudi, who are trying to escape from serious criminal charges regarding the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB.
They have paid an expensive PR operator to pull on his contacts in the Swiss media.
After all, PetroSauid conspired to bring accusations against their whistleblower to get him jailed in Thailand.
They are now promising him help to get him out, so long as he agrees to turn accuser against Sarawak Report and make ludicrous claims about us forging and doctoring PetroSaudi documents.
We therefore challenge PetroSaudi to stop playing in the shadows with these hired PR hands and all this anonymous Facebook libel – they should instead take us to a proper court.
By this we do not include the latest whispering to newspapers from unidentified sources that Justo is to ‘bring a case’ next week against Sarawak Report in Singapore.
Since Sarawak Report has never been notified of any such case, this represents just more nonsense and gossip from those who dare not challenge us openly.
Justo, PetroSaudi, as well as the authorities in Thailand and Malaysia have the originals of all the documents we obtained – if we have doctored them it is entirely open to them to prove the matter in the UK courts (under whose jurisdiction the joint venture deal was done).
Otherwise, the Swiss media should stop regurgitating Marc Comina’s malicious PR and start to cover the real story, which is the role of their banks in Malaysia’s Heist of the Century.