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Malaysia

Five leaders’ wives and their obscene shopping habits, from Rosmah Mansor and Grace Mugabe to Marie Antoinette

Following the downfall of Rosmah Mansor, Malaysia’s former first lady, we look at spouses who are known for their love of luxury and designer goods and weren’t shy about raiding their nation’s coffers to fund their shopping sprees

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 4:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 7:37pm

Rosmah Mansor, Malaysia’s former first lady, is the latest in a long line of spouses who devoted their time to acquiring and spending money, usually from their cash-strapped nations, while their citizens were suffering or starving.

We look at five powerful leaders’ wives and their obscene shopping habits, starting with the former Malaysian first lady herself.

Rosmah Mansor

(aka The Bag Lady)

Born 1951. Second wife of Najib Razak, the sixth Prime Minister of Malaysia.

On May 18 this year, Malaysian police seized a large number of designer handbags, many of them stuffed with cash and jewellery, during searches of homes and offices linked to Najib. The former prime minister has been barred from leaving the country after allegations that he oversaw the looting of billions of dollars from development company 1MDB.

How did Malaysia’s former first lady afford a lavish lifestyle?

His luxury-loving spouse Rosmah is said to have spent US$8 million in seven years in designer shops and US$400,000 on anti-ageing products. She owns a US$10 million, 30-carat diamond ring, while her husband’s salary was US$130,000 a year.

Imelda Marcos

(aka Iron Butterfly)

Imelda Marcos was born in 1929. She was the first lady of the Philippines from 1965 to 1989.

Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos was removed from power in 1986. According to the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the Marcos family pilfered between US$5 billion and US$10 billion during their time in power.

The years 1983 to 1985 saw the biggest decline in GDP in the country’s history. Two of the Marcos children are still active in Philippines politics.

Imelda left Malacanang Palace after her husband’s fall from power, leaving behind 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 888 handbags and, of course, the shoes. Estimates went as high as 7,500 pairs, but the final tally was a paltry 1,060 pairs.

“They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes,” she is quoted as saying.

She had a 175-piece art collection that included works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Canaletto, Monet and Raphael. She once spent US$2,000 on chewing gum in a San Francisco airport. She was found to have funnelled millions to offshore bank accounts in the name Jane Ryan.

Grace Mugabe

(aka “Gucci” Grace, DisGrace, The First Shopper)

Grace was Robert Mugabe’s former secretary. She married him officially at the age of 31 when he was 72.

While their country descended into chaos, Grace was busy shopping in Europe. On one trip she spent US$120,000 in Paris. In 2002 she was banned from entering the EU. “This will stop Grace Mugabe going on her shopping trips in the face of catastrophic poverty blighting the people of Zimbabwe,” said Glenys Kinnock, a Labour Party member of the European parliament at the time.

Grace Mugabe built two palaces, one of which she later sold to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The second palace was built with US$26 million taken from the coffers of her political party Zanu-PF.

In 2009, while in Hong Kong, where she owns a property and her daughter went to university, she and a bodyguard attacked a journalist, Richard Jones, cutting his face with her bejewelled rings. She was granted diplomatic immunity.

That immunity also saved her from prosecution after she attacked and wounded South African model Gabriella Engels.

I might have a small fist. But when it comes to fighting, I will put stones inside to enlarge it. Do not doubt my capabilities
Grace Mugabe

A Zimbabwean police spokeswoman stated on March 26 that they were investigating a case of alleged ivory smuggling linked to Grace Mugabe.

Maha bint Mohammed bin ahmad al-Sudairi

Ex-wife of Saudi Arabia’s former interior minister.

On a shopping trip in 2009, al-Sudairi spent US$20 million in Parisian boutiques. Her staff would leave an embossed card marked “Payment to Follow” with shop staff. But while previous payments had been settled promptly, 30 Parisian retailers pursued her after the spree, saying she owed them a total of 15 million (US$17.7 million).

A court order was obtained to seize goods from her Georges V hotel suite. The debts were said to have been eventually settled through the Saudi embassy.

She was back in Paris in December 2011 with her entourage of 60, occupying 41 rooms at the Shangri-La Hotel and running up a bill of more than US$7 million.

At 3.30am on May 31, 2012, five months after she arrived at the hotel, police were called as her entire group tried to sneak out without paying. Al-Sudairi escaped prosecution by claiming diplomatic immunity. Two storage units containing her purchases from 2012 were seized, to be auctioned off to satisfy creditors. She was barred from leaving Saudi Arabia after that spending spree.

Marie Antoinette

(aka Madame Deficit)

Born 1755.

The last Queen of France, Antoinette is a legend among big spenders.

Her hairstyles were extravagant beyond belief. She could even hide tiny vases of water in there to keep the ornamental flowers fresh. Her jewellery was no less sumptuous – two of her diamond bracelets were worth as much as a Parisian mansion.

Even as her subjects were suffering from starvation and disease, she continued spending and gambling. She paid to construct her own private retreat at Versailles complete with artificial rivers, a rotunda and a series of what appeared to be rustic cottages. The cost: two million francs.

Her spending was said to be a direct cause of the economic plight that led to the French Revolution. Aristocrats were murdered by enraged mobs and the royal family were forced to flee their palace.

A French general told the royals that their journey would be much safer if they made it in two small, inconspicuous carriages. Instead, Antoinette demanded they use larger carriages that could be outfitted with a full silver dinner service and a wine chest.

She met her end at the guillotine. She was disdainful to the last.