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    Saturday, 19 May 2018

    Hundreds of designer bags, jewelry, cash seized in Malaysia from ex-PM

    Malaysian police seized 284 boxes of designer handbags and dozens of bags filled with cash and jewelry from a luxury condominium in the center of Kuala Lumpur linked to former prime minister Najib Razak.
    Police have been searching Najib’s home and other places linked to him as part of an investigation into the scandal-plagued state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), an extraordinary turn of events that few would have predicted before a May 9 general election that he was expected to win.
    Items such as Birkin handbags from Hermes, jewelry, watches and other valuables were carted out of the condominium at the upmarket Pavilion Residences, in the pre-dawn hours, police said.
    “Exactly how much jewelry, I would not be able to say, because we know that we confiscated bags containing jewelry and the number of jewelry is rather big,” Amar Singh, director of police commercial crime investigations, told reporters at the scene.
    Shortly after Najib and his long-ruling political coalition were defeated in the polls, new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad barred him and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, from leaving the country.
    Mahathir, 92, who was once Najib’s mentor, says there is sufficient evidence to investigate the multi-billion-dollar scandal at the 1MDB fund that Najib founded.
    Authorities in six countries, including the United States, are investigating the fund.
    Najib denies any wrongdoing. His lawyer on Thursday denounced the long search of Najib’s home as “harassment”.
    Critics of Najib have often accused his wife of lavish spending, which they say was done with public funds.
    Rosmah’s alleged excesses included designer handbags, watches and jewelry, which she bought while traveling around the world, have been widely reported, although she has never spoken about it herself.
    The US Justice Department said last year in a filing in a civil lawsuit that nearly $30 million of funds stolen from 1MDB was used to buy jewelry for Rosmah, including a rare 22-carat pink diamond set in a necklace.
    Singh said police carried out simultaneous searches at six premises linked to Najib, all in connection with their investigation into 1MDB.
    The premises include the prime minister’s office and official residence in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, the family mansion in Kuala Lumpur where Najib lives, and three other private residences linked to him.
    “This is the result of the search in one of the six premises,” Singh said, pointing to the hundreds of luxury items seized from the condominium.
    Singh said police had also seized documents linked to 1MDB.
    Stories of lavish spending by Najib’s family have long been a sore point for Malaysians.
    A prime minister earns a fixed salary of 22,826.65 ringgit ($5,7500) 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.
    Police began their searches late on Wednesday, with officers seen entering Najib’s private home some 20 minutes after he had asked, in a post on Twitter, for “forgiveness for past sins,” shortly after he had attended prayers on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan.The lavish lifestyle of Najib and Rosmah, who is notorious for her love of designer handbags and expensive jewellery, has long been a source of contention in Malaysia. The annual salary of the prime minister is only $70,000, whereas one Birkin handbag can cost up to $300,000. It is also a stark contrast to the frugal lifestyle of the newly elected prime minister, 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who was recently spotted going about his official duties in sandals costing $4.
    Najib’s large family home in an affluent neighbourhood of Kuala Lumpur was also part of the raid, with the road to his house cordoned off.
    Locksmiths were summoned to the property in the morning to break open a safe, which had apparently not been opened for two decades because the family had lost the key. On Friday afternoon, eight officers from the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) were also seen entering the house.
    In a statement on Thursday night, Najib’s lawyer, Harpal Singh Grewal, criticised the search as “unwarranted hassment”, and added: “This harassment has now continued for almost 18 hours and nothing meaningful has come from the search and seizure of what would appear to be insignificant personal items.”
    News of the raid on Najib’s house became a nationwide talking point, with an endless stream of onlookers visiting the neighbourhood to see the cordon around their former prime minister’s property for themselves. One group had driven hundreds of miles from the state of Penang to take photos of themselves at the raid. Taking selfies next to the blue police tape, Amer Kent said: “We came to see the thief’s house.”
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