A staggering haul of cash, jewelry and luxury items valued at about a quarter of a billion dollars has been seized from homes of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, police announced on Wednesday.
The searches were conducted as part of the investigation into the disappearance of billions of dollars from the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.
The valuables included 12,000 pieces of jewelry, bags containing almost US$30 million in cash (in 26 different currencies), more than 400 watches and over 560 luxury handbags. Altogether they were worth up to $273 million, police said at a press conference.
It took three days for officials from the central bank to tally the total amount of cash – 22 officials armed with six counting machines – and the total worth of the vast trove of luxury goods.
“I think this is the biggest seizure in Malaysian history,” said Amar Singh, head of the police’s commercial crime investigations, after officials completed valuing all items uncovered in raids around Kuala Lumpur last month, AFP reported.
Amar said the items were worth between 910 million ringgit ($225 million) and 1.1 billion ringgit ($273 million).
Najib’s official salary when he was PM was 22,827 ringgit ($5,670) a month.
But reports of huge corruption have surrounded the former PM for several years. He and his cronies were accused of plundering billions from 1MDB to buy real estate in the US, plus expensive art.
Allegations of massive corruption were a major factor behind last month’s shock election loss of Najib’s long-ruling coalition to a reformist alliance headed by Mahathir Mohamad.
Najib has denied any wrongdoing. His wife Rosmah Mansor has been a figure of scorn due to her vast collection of handbags and jewels, and her reported love of overseas shopping trips.
The items were seized in raids on six premises linked to Najib, including luxury apartments in Kuala Lumpur and his main residence in an upmarket part of the city.
1,400 necklaces, 2,200 rings, 14 tiaras
The huge collection of jewelry included 1,400 necklaces, 2,200 rings and 14 tiaras. The most expensive item of jewelry was a necklace, which was estimated to be worth 6.4 million ringgit ($1.5 million), Amar said.
A total of 567 handbags were also seized, including 272 Hermes bags worth 51.3 million ringgit, police said, adding that the value of the other handbags was still being calculated.
A total of 423 watches worth 78 million ringgit were also discovered, along with 234 pairs of sunglasses.
It took officials five weeks, from May 21 to June 25, to count up the items and calculate their value, Amar said.
Najib told Reuters last week most of the items seized from his homes had nothing to do with 1MDB – they were gifts given to his wife and daughter. His son-in-law is Daniyar Nazarbayev, a nephew of the Kazakhstan President, and he allegedly gave Rosmah many handbags. Cash found at his house belonged to his political party, he claimed.
But Mahathir said Najib was fully responsible for the 1MDB scandal and authorities had “an almost perfect case” against the former leader.
The U.S. Justice Department alleges $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB – laundered through shell companies and bank accounts in the US and elsewhere.
– with additional reporting by AFP