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26 February 2024

Almost $30m, 400 handbags seized in raids linked to Malaysia's Najib

Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak. (AFP)


Malaysian police said Friday they seized over 400 handbags and cash amounting to almost $30 million in raids on luxury apartments as they probed corruption allegations swirling around ousted leader Najib Razak.

The money and a vast trove of handbags, as well as watches and jewellery, were found in two condominiums in Kuala Lumpur.

A total of 12 locations, including the ex-leader's home, were searched by police last week as part of an investigation into the scandal surrounding a sovereign wealth fund.

After more than six decades in power, Najib's coalition was defeated by a reformist alliance headed by his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad in the May 9 poll.

Public disgust at allegations of corruption linked to Najib was a major factor in the upset, with the ex-leader, his family and cronies accused of looting state fund 1MDB.

There had been much speculation about what the seized goods consisted of and how much they were worth after five trucks were reportedly brought in to help move the stash.

Giving an update, the police's head of commercial crime Amar Singh said: "From the money found, there were 26 currencies, the total amount as of yesterday is 114 million (ringgit) ($28.6 million)."

The money was found in 35 bags at one apartment while another 37 bags at the same location contained watches and jewellery, he told a press conference. A total of 284 boxes containing designer handbags were found in that condominium.

Police also seized about 150 handbags from another apartment in the same complex where Najib's daughter was staying.

French connection

Many of the handbags were believed to be Hermes Birkins - a favourite of Najib's luxury-loving, widely despised wife Rosmah Mansor - and Singh said pictures of the bags would be sent to Hermes in Paris to get an estimate of their value.

The seizure of the luxury goods further increased public scorn for Rosmah, long reviled by Malaysians for her perceived haughty demeanour and reported vast collection of designer bags, clothing and jewellery.

Her love of overseas shopping trips, as middle class Malaysians struggled with rising living costs, added to a sense of spreading, deeply-entrenched rot in the country's long-ruling elite.

Najib's defeated party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), meanwhile insisted the seized cash was party funds, which the ousted leader had intended to return to the party.

"Political funding is allowed under our laws," said a party statement.

"As such, UMNO seeks to recover these funds and requests the police to release these funds and return them to the party after completion of all due process and investigations by the relevant authorities."

Najib's fall from grace has been swift and hard.

He has been barred from leaving the country and has been questioned by anti-graft investigators over claims 1MDB money ended up in his bank accounts, and looks likely to be charged.

Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.