By EILEEN NG
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The total value of cash, jewelry, watches and handbags seized from properties linked to former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in a money-laundering investigation amounted to at least $273 million, police said Wednesday, calling the haul the biggest in Malaysia’s history.
The items comprised 12,000 pieces of jewelry, 567 handbags, 423 watches and 234 sunglasses, said commercial crime investigations chief Amar Singh. The jewelry includes 2,200 rings, 1,400 necklaces, 2,100 bracelets, 2,800 pair of earrings, 1,600 brooches and 14 tiaras, he said.
“Definitely we are shocked. This is the biggest seizure in Malaysia’s history,” he told a news conference.
Allegations of corruption at the defunct 1MDB state investment fund that Najib set up led to his shocking defeat in May 9 elections and the end of the 60-year unbroken rule of his coalition. Najib and his wife have been barred from leaving the country and have both been grilled by anti-graft officials. They have denied any wrongdoing.
Police have raided 12 locations, including Najib’s family home and apartments at a high-end Kuala Lumpur condominium, as part of the probe into a criminal breach of trust involving the 1MDB fund.
Singh said that among the most expensive valuables were a 6.4 million ringgit ($1.6 million) diamond necklace and a 3.5 million ringgit ($869,000) Rolex Daytona watch. Of the 567 handbags, 272 were the exclusive Hermes Birkins bags with a market value of at least 51.3 million ringgit ($12.7 million), he said.
Police will soon call Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, as well as people who allegedly gave them some of the items as gifts for questioning, Singh said.
Rosmah was reviled by many Malaysians as an avaricious first lady who loves Birkin bags and leads an opulent lifestyle, but television footage of the huge police haul has Malaysia gasping with shock. It is possibly the most sensational image of elite corruption in Asia in the three decades since Imelda Marcos, who was infamous for her massive collection of designer shoes and jewelry, was the Philippines’ first lady.
Najib set up the 1MDB fund when he took power in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts. U.S. investigators say Najib’s associates stole and laundered $4.5 billion from the fund from 2009 to 2014, some of which landed in Najib’s bank account. They say $27.3 million was used to buy a rare diamond necklace for Rosmah.
New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reopened investigations into 1MDB that were suppressed under Najib’s rule. Mahathir, who previously was prime minister for 22 years until 2003, was spurred out of retirement by the 1MDB scandal. He has vowed there will be no deal for Najib, saying he will face the consequences if found guilty of wrongdoing.
The government has said Najib’s administration had conducted an “exercise of deception” over 1MDB and misrepresented the country’s financial situation to Parliament. The country’s new anti-graft chief warned of criminal charges against Najib soon.