EMBROILED in a huge corruption scandal, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has moved to explain the source of hundreds of millions in cash, jewellery, and handbags that were seized by police in recent weeks.
The former leader, who relinquished power in a shock election defeat on May 9 said vast sums of money and luxury items that were taken by authorities at several family properties was not linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal that has spurred investigations against him.
“Yes these were gifts, particularly with my daughter’s they were tagged, they were actually labelled: when, by whom,” Najib told Reuters in his first sit-down interview since the election.
Najib explained that a lot of the items were wedding presents and that his son-in-law Daniyar Nazarbayev, the nephew of Kazakstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, also gifted many of the handbags to his wife, Rosmah Mansor.
“People might find it hard to understand, but my son-in-law for example, he gets Birkin from his source, five or six at one go,” he said.
“His family has got some means, so it has nothing to do with 1MDB if it comes from Kazakhstan.”
On Tuesday, newly-elected prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said the authorities have “an almost perfect case” against Najib on charges of embezzlement, misappropriation and bribery linked to 1MDB.
Earlier this month the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission held a questioning session with Rosmah which lasted several hours. Rosmah is known for her lavish lifestyle and taste for extravagant handbags and jewellery, and has often been compared to the opulent former Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos.
In recent weeks, the Royal Malaysia Police’s (RMD) Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) seized RM130 million (US$32 million) in cash stored in dozens of bags hidden in several luxury apartment units linked to Najib. The cops also seized 284 boxes containing an estimated RM200 million (US$50 million) worth of designer handbags, jewellery and watches.
Najib has repeatedly denied any wrong-doing in the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal and also said he did not know whether the US$681 million that flowed into his personal account came from the state-owned company.
He also said 114 million ringgit found at his family home in Kuala Lumpur were party funds belonging to the United Malays National Organisation, of which he was president until he stepped down shortly after the poll. UMNO was part of the Barisan Nasional coalition that lost the election.
He also denied any knowledge of whether money from the fund was eventually laundered to acquire assets globally, including yachts, paintings, gems and prime real estate.
“I’m not party to the yacht, the paintings…I’ve never seen those paintings whatsoever,” said Najib.
“I was not aware of these purchases. This was done without my knowledge. I would never authorize 1MDB funds to be used for any of these items. I’ve been in government so long, I know what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Additional reporting by Reuters