Malaysian Court Orders Govt to Return Luxury Items Seized from Ex-PM Najib

Hadi Azmi and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2021-11-08
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Malaysian Court Orders Govt to Return Luxury Items Seized from Ex-PM Najib Amar Singh Ishar Singh (center), then-chief of the Royal Malaysia Police’s Commercial Crime Investigation Department, and other police officers display photos of items seized during a raid from premises linked to former Prime Minister Najib Razak, in Kuala Lumpur, June 27, 2018.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

A Malaysian court ordered the government Monday to return high-priced handbags, watches and other items seized from former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his family during a 2018 investigation into the 1MDB corruption scandal, but the Attorney General’s Chambers said it would appeal.

The government, in its legal bid to formally take possession of hundreds of boxes of jewelry and other luxury objects confiscated during police raids on addresses in the Malaysian capital linked with Najib’s family, failed to prove these were bought with money funneled from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled.

“The applicant [the government] merely listed down the properties seized and their value and, in turn, concluded that the respondents did not have the means to own such items based on their income,” Justice Mohamed Zaini Mazlan said in handing down the ruling, referring to Najib, his wife and their children.

“It is apparent that the applicant came to this conclusion based on presumption. This is insufficient as they need to credibly prove a direct link between the money that was gained illegally to the cash found as well as the items bought.”

The ruling dealt another blow to the effort to recover millions of dollars of funds allegedly misappropriated by Najib from the troubled sovereign wealth fund. Last year, the ex-PM was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being convicted of money laundering and abuse of power in a case related to a 1MDB subsidiary.

In May, another judge dismissed the government’s claim that the cash portion of the seizure from Najib-linked premises in the Kuala Lumpur area was linked to funds stolen from 1MDB.

On Monday, the Kuala Lumpur High Court also said that the government should return a Penang bungalow valued at $3.6 million confiscated from Jho Low, a fugitive financier who is also linked to the 1MDB financial scandal, and cash from three of his bank accounts. The judge said the government also could not prove a connection between these assets and the 1MDB case.

The government will appeal this ruling, said Harris Ong Mohd Jeffery Ong, the deputy public prosecutor, according to the Bernama state news agency.

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, an influential leader of the United Malays National Organization party, or UMNO, founded 1MDB, the state development fund, in 2009 while serving as prime minister and finance minister. His alleged misappropriations from the fund took place during his 9-year stint as Malaysia’s 6th PM, prosecutors had said.

The eye-watering amount of assets seized from Najib-linked premises back in 2018 are worth around U.S. $223 million. They included 12,000 pieces of jewelry, 284 handbags, 423 watches and 234 sunglasses.

Along with the 114-million-ringgit of cash – in 26 different currencies – the total worth of the seizure was between 900 million (U.S. $216 million) to 1.1 billion ringgit (U.S. $264 million).

Last month, Malaysians were shocked that a court granted Najib’s request to travel to Singapore for his grandchild’s birth, even though he was convicted last year on charges related to a 1MDB subsidiary.

The former PM is appealing last year’s conviction and standing trial in a second case tied to the 1MDB scandal. In his second trial, Najib is facing 25 charges of abuse of power and money laundering connected with 2.3 billion ringgit ($551 million) that went missing from 1MDB.

His wife, Rosmah Mansor – the purported owner of the 248 high-end handbags, many of them from Hermès – was also allowed to travel to Singapore while she is under trial for alleged graft related to the approval of a school-related energy project.

When Najib leaves it will be his first trip abroad since authorities confiscated his passport and blocked him from leaving Malaysia after his UMNO party crashed out in the 2018 general election.

The unelected UMNO is back in power since August after two successive governments – one elected and the other unelected – crashed and burned.

In a post on his popular Facebook page, Najib celebrated his latest victory, claiming it absolved him from the accusation of being a thief.

“We won again this morning,” the former PM wrote.

“[I]t is proof once more that the other side’s propaganda that Najib is a robber who robs to buy rings, luxury items and the like, are slander.”

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