Malaysian court: Govt must return $17M in seized assets to Najib

Iman Yusof Muttaqin
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysian court: Govt must return $17M in seized assets to Najib Rosmah Mansor, the wife of jailed former Prime Minister Najib Razak, arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex, Nov. 14, 2022.
[Iman Muttaqin Yusof/BenarNews]

A Malaysian court on Monday rejected the government bid’s to take over U.S. $17.4 million in luxury goods seized from jailed ex-Prime Minster Najib Razak in 2018, saying there was not enough evidence to link them to criminal activities.

Days after Najib’s party was voted out four years ago over his alleged involvement in the 1MDB financial scandal, police raided properties linked to Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor and seized luxury handbags, watches and wads of cash valued at $217.4 million.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court issued its ruling days before a general election, which Najib’s UMNO party and its Barisan Nasional coalition have an edge in largely because of an opposition in disarray, according to analysts.

Judge Muhammad Jamil Hussin ruled that the government had failed to prove that some of the assets seized by police – 2,435 pieces of jewelry, seven Richard Mille watches, and 29 Hermès handbags – were bought with money funneled from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a troubled state development fund.

“The prosecution, on a balance of probability, had failed to prove that the assets resulted from unlawful activities. Hence, the application to forfeit is dismissed,” Jamil said in giving the court’s decision.

The prosecution said it would appeal the ruling and filed for a stay on the decision pending the appeal. The judge refused to grant the stay.

Najib’s lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, said the items would be returned to Najib and Rosmah.

“Both Najib and Rosmah will get back their belongings very soon,” Shafee told BenarNews.

The ruling dealt another blow to the effort to recover millions of dollars of funds allegedly misappropriated by Najib from 1MDB.

In May 2021, another judge dismissed the government’s claim that the cash portion of the seizure, 114 million ringgit (U.S. $24.8 million), from Najib-linked premises in the Kuala Lumpur area was linked to funds stolen from the sovereign wealth fund.

Najib, an influential leader of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), founded 1MDB in 2009 while serving as prime minister and finance minister.

Malaysian and U.S. prosecutors had alleged that at least $4.5 billion (18.8 billion ringgit) was stolen from 1MDB between 2009 and 2014, in a financial scandal that implicated foreign and local financial institutions and high-ranking officials, including Najib.

Najib is serving a 12-year sentence for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, and money laundering involving a 1MBD subsidiary, at Kajang Prison. In August Malaysia’s highest court also ordered him to pay a 210 million ringgit (U.S. $45.6 million) fine.

In July 2020, the Kuala Lumpur High Court convicted Najib of one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust, and three counts of money-laundering over allegations that he illegally received 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.67 million) from SRC International, a subsidiary of 1MDB.

Najib is also standing trial in another court on 25 charges of abuse of power and money laundering connected with 2.3 billion ringgit ($500 million) that went missing from 1MDB. He could also face trials on 10 additional outstanding charges.

In September, Najib’s wife was found guilty of graft and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Rosmah, 70, who was known for her lavish lifestyle and fondness for Hermès Birkin bags, was also fined 970 million ringgit (U.S. $216 million) for seeking and taking bribes in exchange for helping a company secure a government contract.

The fine was the largest ever penalty imposed by a Malaysian court.

Rosmah, however, is out on bail as she appeals the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s verdict against her.


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