May 18, 2018
Police in Malaysia say they have seized hundreds of boxes of luxury items and handbags full of foreign currency from properties linked to ex-PM Najib Razak.
The raids on properties across the capital, Kuala Lumpur, were related to investigations into state development fund 1MDB, they said.
Corruption claims against 1MDB were a major cause of Mr Najib’s election loss to his former ally, Mahathir Mohammad.
Billions of dollars are unaccounted for from the fund, which Mr Najib set up.
Mr Najib himself was alleged to have pocketed $700m (£517m), which he has always denied.
He has been cleared by Malaysian authorities but is being investigated by several other countries.
Mr Mahathir has said he is considering reopening the case and that he believes the missing money can be recovered. He has banned Mr Najib from leaving the country.
The police raids on Mr Najib’s office, private residence and several other properties linked to him in an upmarket area of the capital have been going on for several days, in the full view of the media.
At one point a locksmith was brought in to open a safe removed from Mr Najib’s home.
On Friday, the head of the police commercial crime investigation unit, Amar Singh, told reporters the items removed included “284 boxes containing designer handbags”.
“Our personnel checked these bags and discovered various currencies including Malaysian Ringgit, US dollars, watches and jewellery in 72 bags.
“Exactly how much jewellery, I would not be able to say, because we know that we confiscated bags containing jewellery and the amount of jewellery is rather big,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Mr Najib’s lawyer has complained that the raids amount to “unwarranted harassment” and that the items seized “would seem of insignificant value”.
Luxury bags versus $4 shoes
It is customary in much of South East Asia to allow the powerful and wealthy a degree of privacy when facing criminal investigation. No such privilege is being accorded Mr Najib.
The police searches are being streamed live on social media. Pictures of shopping trolleys, piled high with the signature orange boxes for Hermes Birkin handbags favoured by his wife, Rosmah, are going viral. Police officers are leaking details of what they are finding – the bricks of cash, high-priced watches, a who’s-who of designer brand names.
How much any of this evidence of princely living has to do with Mr Najib’s culpability in the 1MDB scandal is not clear. A particularly unkind photo of Mr Najib – in a plain red sweater, slumped asleep on his sofa while the search went on – sent a very clear image of a spectacular downfall, of a once seemingly all-powerful man.
It was surely, then, no accident, that newly-elected Mahathir Mohamad allowed himself to be photographed wearing a pair of $4 sandals.
There was plenty of corruption and mismanagement in Mr Mahathir’s heyday as prime minister in the 1980s and 90s, but he has always led a modest lifestyle.
Much about the last nine days in Malaysia has been unplanned and unscripted. But the wily Mr Mahathir is now writing the script, and very clearly painting his ousted predecessor as the villain.