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Former Malaysian Leader’s Wife Pleads Not Guilty to Money Laundering

Lex Radz and Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2018-10-04
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Police provide security for Rosmah Mansor, wife of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, as she leaves the Jalan Duta Court building in Kuala Lumpur after being charged with money laundering and tax fraud, Oct. 4, 2018.
Police provide security for Rosmah Mansor, wife of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, as she leaves the Jalan Duta Court building in Kuala Lumpur after being charged with money laundering and tax fraud, Oct. 4, 2018.
Hadi Azmi/BenarNews

The wife of former Malaysian leader Najib Razak pleaded not guilty Thursday to 12 money laundering and five tax fraud charges linked to a multibillion-dollar graft scandal that helped topple the previous government.

Rosmah Mansor, 66, and her husband, Najib, are facing a graft probe related to the billions of dollars that prosecutors said were misappropriated from the state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Rosmah’s charge sheets did not mention 1MDB, but anti-grant agents arrested her Wednesday after her third round of questioning at the headquarters of the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in Putrajaya, where she spent the night under detention.

Lawyers said she was questioned about the fund.

MACC prosecutors alleged that almost 7.1 million ringgit (U.S. $1.7 million) were funneled in to her personal bank account from 2013 to 2017. They also accused her of having directly engaged in transactions “that involved proceeds of unlawful activity,” referring to money laundering.

The charges against Rosmah, if she is found guilty, carry sentences of between five and 15 years in prison and possible fines.

The judge in the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur, where the charges were filed, allowed Rosmah to post a bail of 2 million ringgit ($482,000). She paid 500,000 ringgit ($120,690) on Thursday and has been ordered to pay the balance by Oct. 11.

The court will announce the trial date later, lawyers said.

Najib, 65, also appeared Thursday in the High Court, in the same Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex in Jalan Duta, for pre-trial hearing in connection with 1MDB-related charges lodged against him. He has denied any wrongdoings.

Najib tweeted late Wednesday following Rosmah’s detention that he will not cease praying and will put his trust in Allah.

The former prime minister faces a total of 32 charges related to the 1MDB corruption probe. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison for the abuse of power counts and up to 15 years for the money laundering charges, lawyers said. He is also free on 3.5 million ringgit (nearly $850,000) bail.

Rosmah lead attorney Geethan Ram Vincent told reporters the charge sheets did not make any mention of 1MDB.

“However, if the prosecution wanted to relate it (in the trial later), it is up to them,” he said.

Calm in court

Rosmah, wearing an orange traditional dress known as baju kurung and a headscarf, smiled when she arrived at court.

She appeared to be calm when the court interpreter read out the charges and responded by shaking or nodding her head.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 93, revived the 1MDB probe after leading the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan to triumph in the May 9 general election and barred Najib and Rosmah from leaving the country.

Rosmah, whose lavish lifestyle and penchant for luxury Hermes Birkin bags has been subject of criticism, has been widely compared to former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, who left behind thousands of pairs of designer shoes when she fled the presidential palace with her husband in 1986.

The charges against Rosmah were filed more than four months after Malaysian police raided a former office and residences linked to Najib and removed 567 designer handbags, hundreds of Swiss-made watches and dozens of suitcases containing cash and 12,000 pieces of jewelry. Authorities said cash seized totaled 114 million ringgit ($28.75 million) while the items seized were valued at as much as 1.1 billion ringgit ($273 million).

In August 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was pursuing criminal action against those involved in the fraudulent diversion of funds from 1MDB, which Najib formed in 2009 ostensibly to pursue projects that would benefit Malaysian citizens.

Mahathir Mohamad told reporters that Rosmah’s arrest and the filing of charges were in accordance with the law.

“No one is above the law. … There is no idea about revenge or anything like that,” he said Thursday morning. “The law says if you take money or steal money you will be charged.”

Najib and Rosmah, who arrived at the court complex separately, left the building together.

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