Police seized up to $273 million in cash and luxury goods from Malaysia’s ex-leader

Lavish living.
Lavish living.
Image: EPA-EFE/M.A. Pushpa
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In raids last month, Malaysian authorities filled over 280 boxes with luxury items seized from the residences of former prime minister Najib Razak, after he was unexpectedly voted out of office. Today (June 27), after weeks of counting and calculating, they put an estimate on the value of those items: up to 1.1 billion ringgit, or about $273 million.

“We couldn’t do the counting at the premises because the numbers were too huge,” said Amar Singh, head of the police commercial crime division.

Investigators in Malaysia—along with their counterparts in the US, Singapore, Switzerland, and elsewhere—are trying to determine exactly what happened to over $4 billion embezzled out of state development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) during Najib’s time in office. Najib, who set up 1MDB and also served as finance minister, has denied any wrongdoing.

Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor is also in their sights (paywall). Often likened to Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines known for her expensive tastes, Rosmah long drew anger—and suspicions of corruption—for her extravagant displays of wealth, which included diamond bracelets, designer handbags, and other luxury goods. She has a particular fondness for the Hermès Birkin handbags, which start at around $9,000 and are considered a good investment, with one going for over $383,000 at an auction last year,

Authorities today broke down the haul seized from the properties thus:

  • 12,000 pieces of jewelry worth up to nearly $220 million. Among them were 1,400 necklaces, 2,200 rings, 2,100 bangles, 2,800 pairs of earrings, 1,600 brooches, and 14 tiaras.
  • About $29 million in cash, in 26 different currencies.
  • 423 watches worth $19.3 million. They included more than 100 brands, among them Rolex and Chopard.
  • 567 luxury handbags from 37 brands including Hermès, Prada, and Chanel. Investigators are still working on their total value, but the Hermes bags alone were worth $12.7 million.
  • 234 pairs of sunglasses worth about $93,000.

Barred from leaving the country, Najib said last week that the items seized were wedding gifts and campaign funds. The current prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said this month that Malaysian investigators “have an almost perfect case” against the main suspects and that Najib was “totally responsible for 1MDB.”

Malaysian police will soon call Najib and his shopaholic wife—along with people who allegedly gave them some of the items as gifts—for questioning.