Malaysia’s government is seeking to legalize last year’s seizure by authorities of 720 million ringgit (U.S. $173 million) in cash and valuable items during raids linked to ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, as part of their probe into the 1MBD corruption scandal, police said Wednesday.
Prosecutors have filed a court motion for a ruling to allow the government to legally seize the cash, real-estate and items such as luxury handbags that were allegedly obtained with money stolen from the sovereign wealth fund, a senior police officer told BenarNews.
The Attorney-General’s Chamber filed a legal notice at the Kuala Lumpur High Court giving it permission to confiscate hundreds of items, said Khalil Azlan Chik, chief of the police’s Anti-Money Laundering division.
“Based on reports compiled by the police, the Attorney-General’s Chamber had filed a motion and supporting affidavits to the court on Tuesday,” Khalil told BenarNews. “The total value of the items is around 720 million ringgit.”
The items, including suitcases full of cash and boxes of high-priced items, were carted off by police during raids last year at Kuala Lumpur area residences and addresses associated with the former prime minister and his wife, Rosmah Mansor.
State-run news service Bernama said the notice named Najib as the first respondent, followed by Rosmah, stepson Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, his children with Rosmah, and other individuals.
Khalil said the court filing came as a result of the June 2018 raids at luxury condominiums and offices, during which authorities seized luxury goods that were initially estimated by authorities to be worth up to U.S. $273 million.
“First, the assets were frozen, then, seized, so now is the forfeiture process through the court,” Khalil said. “It means that if the court accepts our motion, all the belongings will legally no longer belong to Najib and Rosmah.”
The police raids were part of a probe into the disappearance of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund started by Najib in 2009 ostensibly to promote economic growth.
U.S. prosecutors are seeking to recover a total of $1.7 billion in assets allegedly siphoned off by Najib and his associates from the sovereign wealth fund.
Among the valuables hauled off by police during the raids were 12,000 pieces of jewelry, 117 million ringgit (U.S. $29 million) in cash in different currencies, luxury handbags and a large number of designer Swiss-made watches.
Authorities did not find a rare 22-carat pink diamond worth $27.3 million that, U.S. investigators claim, was bought with funds stolen from 1MDB.
Tuesday’s court filing came to light after a source within the police department tipped-off The Edge Markets, a local business-focused publication.
Najib, who is facing 42 criminal charges related to the 1MDB looting, berated the court filing Wednesday, saying the government was losing legal grounds to hold the items in its custody.
“The terms of the seizure is set to expire in 10 days on May 18, whereby after that date, according to the law, all items need to be returned if the authorities failed to prove that it was purchased using illegally sourced funds and did not pursue a charge regarding the possession of those items,” Najib said in a Facebook post.
Najib has pleaded not guilty to some of the criminal charges. If found guilty on all, he could be sentenced to decades in prison and given fines up to millions of dollars.
Lawyer promises court challenge
Najib’s lawyer, Shafee Abdullah, vowed to challenge the government’s forfeiture move.
“I don’t think they (the government) can do that. I think they are rushing on everything,” he told reporters.
The court filings took place on the same day authorities announced that Washington had started returning to Malaysia almost U.S. $200 million recovered from forfeitures and seizures of assets linked to 1MDB.
The government was within its right to seek the forfeiture of seized assets under the Anti -Money Laundering, Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Act 2001, legal expert Amir Faliq told BenarNews.
“The prosecution has to satisfy the court that all the seized properties are proceeds of unlawful activities,” he said. “If the court is satisfied then only the seized properties will be ordered to be forfeited.”
Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.