Malaysian ex-PM’s wife charged as corruption scandal heats up

Rosmah Monsor’s lavish lifestyle has long provoked anger among Malaysians with police seizing 567 designer handbags.

Rosmah Mansor
Rosmah Mansor arrives in court in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday [Lai Seng Sin/Reuters]

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Rosmah Mansor, wife of the former Malaysian prime minister, appeared in court on Thursday to face 17 charges of money laundering and unpaid taxes as authorities step up their investigation into the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal.

Rosmah arrived at the sprawling court complex at 8:25am (00:25 GMT) dressed in an orange baju kurung traditional outfit with a scarf draped loosely around her head after spending the night in custody.

Escorted by officers from Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission and separated from the waiting media by police, Rosmah smiled but didn’t respond to questions.

Standing in the dock as the clerk took 20 minutes to read charge details, Rosmah nodded occasionally and leaned on the rail in front of the dock for support. She pleaded not guilty and was granted bail of RM2m ($482,500).

Rosmah’s husband, Najib Razak, is already facing at least 30 charges in relation to the state fund and was also in court on Thursday – arriving shortly after his wife and appearing in a courtroom three floors above.

Widespread anger over 1MDB contributed to his coalition’s defeat at the polls in May, Malaysia’s first change in government in 60 years.

Lavish lifestyle

Some $681m is alleged to have ended up in Najib’s private accounts, and Rosmah’s lavish lifestyle has long provoked anger and ridicule among Malaysians. Police seized luxury goods including 567 designer handbags and millions of dollars in fine jewellery in raids on the couple’s properties shortly after the election.

Both Najib and Rosmah have denied any wrongdoing. A small group of supporters gathered outside the court voiced suspicion about the charges, claiming the prosecution had no real evidence. “It’s really ridiculous and bogus,” said Elly Suriati of the charges against Rosmah.

The allegations centre on about RM7 million that was deposited into her local bank account between 2013 and 2017. The prosecution says the amounts were proceeds from illegal activities.

If Rosmah is found guilty, she could be facing a substantial prison sentence – four of the 12 money-laundering charges carry a maximum jail sentence of five years and/or a fine not exceeding RM5 million, while the others have five-year jail terms.

A further five charges relating to undeclared income have maximum jail terms of 15 years.

Passport surrender

The prosecution earlier asked for bail of RM10m, noting the sum was “not unreasonable”, given the gravity of the offences and Rosmah’s position in life at the time.

“A person of her standing should not be in the dock in the first place,” lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram told the court.

Rosmah’s defence lawyers argued for bail of just RM250,000, but the judge set the sum at RM2 million. Rosmah has to pay RM500,000 by the end of Thursday with the remainder due by October 11.

She also must surrender her passport and has been instructed not to contact any prosecution witnesses, amid allegations she had tried to convince a witness to write a statement in her favour.

Najib’s lawyers, meanwhile, asked for his case to be transferred to the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest court, in Putrajaya. His full trial is due to start in February next year and he faces life in prison if found guilty.

Source: Al Jazeera