Malaysia ex-PM says seized items gifts, value inflated

June 28, 2018
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An officer of Malaysia's Federal Commercial Crime Investigation Department shows pictures of jewelry during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Malaysian police say the total value of cash, jewelry and hundreds of watches and handbags seized from properties linked to former Prime Minister Najib Razak in a money-laundering investigation amounted to $273 million. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Thursday that a huge haul of jewelry and valuables seized from properties linked to him as part of a money-laundering probe were mostly gifts and the police valuation was likely grossly inflated.

Police estimate the total value of cash, jewelry, watches and handbags to at least 1.1 billion ringgit ($273 million), calling last month’s seizure the biggest in Malaysia’s history. Police said the items comprised 12,000 pieces of jewelry, 567 handbags, 423 watches and 234 sunglasses. The jewelry includes 2,200 rings, 1,400 necklaces, 2,100 bracelets, 2,800 pair of earrings, 1,600 brooches and 14 tiaras.

Najib slammed the police news conference on Wednesday and what he called overvaluation of the goods, saying it appeared to be “political vengeance and political attack on my family.”

He said in a statement that most of the items were gifts from friends and foreign dignitaries during official visits and family events such as birthdays and anniversaries. Many of the items were in boxes labeled with description, photographs, dates they were given and the identity of the giver, he said.

For example, he said a 3.4 million ringgit ($841,000) Rolex Daytona watch listed by police as among the most expensive items was a gift from a Middle Eastern interior minister who visited Malaysia in March.

Najib said police valuation based on current prices is “unrealistic, likely to be grossly inflated and will give a very distorted picture as these items were received as gifts over a period that spans decades.”

Some others belong to relatives and third parties, which have started the legal process to claim the items from police, he said.

Allegations of corruption at the defunct 1MDB state investment fund that Najib set up led to his shocking defeat in May 9 elections and the end of the 60-year unbroken rule of his coalition. Najib and his wife have been barred from leaving the country and both grilled by anti-graft officials. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Police have raided 12 locations, including Najib’s family home and apartments at a high-end Kuala Lumpur condominium, as part of the probe into a criminal breach of trust involving the 1MDB fund. Police have said they plan to call Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor for questioning soon.

Police said among the handbags were 272 Hermes Birkins bags, valued at nearly $13 million, believed to belong to Rosmah. She has been compared to former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos and her massive collection of designer shoes and jewelry.

Najib set up the 1MDB fund when he took power in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts. U.S. investigators say Najib’s associates stole and laundered $4.5 billion from the fund from 2009 to 2014, some of which landed in Najib’s bank account. They say $27.3 million was used to buy a rare diamond necklace for Rosmah.

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reopened investigations into 1MDB that were suppressed under Najib’s rule. Mahathir, who previously was prime minister for 22 years until 2003, was spurred out of retirement by the 1MDB scandal.

The government also said Najib’s administration had conducted an “exercise of deception” over 1MDB and misrepresented the country’s financial situation to Parliament. The country’s new anti-graft chief warned of criminal charges against Najib soon.

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