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Malaysia 1MDB scandal

Police to question Malaysia’s ex-PM Najib Razak and wife after treasure trove worth US$273 million seized in raids

More than 150 police officers and external experts took nearly a month to value the seized items

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 11:57am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 11:35pm

Malaysian police said on Wednesday they would soon question former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife after finding US$273 million worth of jewellery, handbags, watches and other items at premises linked to the couple.

Authorities are investigating Najib as part of their probe into how billions of dollars went missing from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which was founded by the former premier.

Since his shock election loss to Mahathir Mohamad in May, Najib has been barred from leaving the country, questioned by the anti-graft agency and has had his personal and family houses searched as part of the 1MDB probe.

Amar Singh, head of the police commercial crime division, said the retail value of the items seized from six properties linked to Najib was between 900 million ringgit and 1.1 billion ringgit (US$224 million-US$273 million).

“This is the biggest seizure in Malaysian history,” Singh said.

The police had to form eight teams consisting of more than 150 officers to analyse the items for weeks, even working through the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday, Singh said.

Jewellery accounted for the biggest portion of the seizure – 12,000 pieces of jewellery valued at between 660 million to 880 million ringgit, Singh said. The single most expensive item was a diamond necklace worth at least 6.4 million ringgit.

Authorities also found 116.7 million ringgit in cash, slightly higher than previously disclosed. Singh said 22 central bank officials using six cash-counting machines needed three days to count the money.

Luxury handbags and watches worth millions of dollars were also seized.

Singh said police planned to take statements from Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, on the ownership of the seized items.

“We should be calling them soon,” he said. “We have to verify if they were gifts from people, and if so, who are the gifts from”.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Najib said most of the items seized from his houses were gifts given to his wife and daughter and had nothing to do with 1MDB.

Najib said his son-in-law Daniyar Nazarbayev, the nephew of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, had also gifted many handbags to Rosmah.

He also said the cash found at his house belonged to his political party.

Najib has long faced criticism from Malaysians for his family’s lavish spending.

A prime minister earns a fixed salary of 22,826.65 ringgit (US$5,671.22) a month and cannot invest in businesses or stocks while in office. Najib earned an additional monthly salary of 16,000 ringgit as a member of parliament.

Singh said police had seized a total of 567 handbags in 37 different brands from Najib’s residences.

The Hermes bags – 272 in total – were worth nearly US$13 million, he said.

The rest have not been evaluated, but Singh said they included a custom-made handbag by Los Angeles-based House of Bijan, known to be patronised by the world’s richest people.

The police also found 423 watches worth 78 million ringgit and 234 pairs of sunglasses. The most expensive watch: a Rolex Paul Newman Daytona worth US$869,565.

Many Malaysians reacted with disbelief on social media as the police listed the items and their estimated worth during a news conference broadcast on live television.

“This is madness!!!” Elsie Low said on Twitter.

Mahathir, in an interview with South China Morning Post last week, said the Malaysian government was taking time to build a watertight case in the 1MDB financial scandal and would not be swayed by populist sentiment.

The US Department of Justice has said a total of $4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund.

Last week, Najib said he shouldn’t be blamed for the alleged stealing from 1MDB, and declared he knew nothing about the money from the state fund that appeared in his bank account.

The former PM has also taken to social media to defend his record, posting statements on Facebook to criticise the government’s policies while sharing regular pictures of him with his supporters.

Photographs circulating on social media showed Najib, his wife and children attending an event to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, with the former premier belting out Cliff Richards’ The Young Ones and Sha-La-La-La-La by Danish rock band the Walkers.

In a few of these posts, Najib maintained that funds weren’t misappropriated from 1MDB.

Here’s a breakdown of what was seized

Cash

A total of 116.7 million ringgit, made up by 26 currencies, was seized. Police, with the help of 22 central bank officials and six counting machines, took 3 days to count the money.

Jewellery

A total of 12,000 individual items of jewellery were found in 25 bags.

Experts estimated the jewellery would retail for between 660 million and 880 million ringgit.

The items included 1,400 necklaces, 2,200 rings, 2,100 bangles, 2,800 pairs of earrings, 1,600 brooches and 14 tiaras.

The single most expensive item was a yellow-gold necklace with diamonds, valued at 6.4 million ringgit, excluding workmanship.

Handbags

Police seized 567 luxury handbags from 37 different brands, including Hermes, Prada, Channel, Judith Leiber and Bijan.

The Hermes bags alone were valued at 51.3 million ringgit, and police have yet to complete a valuation of the other handbags, although some of the bags were worth 1.6 million ringgit each.

Watches

Police seized 423 watches made up of more than 100 brands, including Rolex, Chopard and Richard Mille.

The watches have an estimated value of 78 million ringgit. The most expensive piece, a Paul Newman Rolex Daytona, was valued at 3.5 million ringgit.

Sunglasses

A total of 234 pairs of sunglasses were seized, worth an estimated 374,000 ringgit. Brands included Versace, Gucci, Cartier and Dior.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Bloomberg