11 July 2024

Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Malaysia’s ex-premier Najib Razak, was found guilty of graft on Thursday and sentenced to 10 years in jail with a $216 million fine, just over a week after her husband began serving a 12-year term after his own corruption conviction.

The 70-year-old has long been criticised by Malaysians for her reportedly vast collection of designer handbags, clothing and jewellery, acquired on overseas shopping trips.

Prosecutors said Rosmah had sought a 187.5 million-ringgit ($41.8 million) bribe and received 6.5 million-ringgit for helping a company secure a solar power project for rural schools in the Malaysian part of Borneo during her husband’s tenure.

“The accused is found guilty of all three charges,” High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan said as Rosmah sat quietly in the dock.

After mitigation, he handed down a sentence of 10 years in jail for each of the three charges.

“The sentences are to run concurrently,” Zaini said, also imposing a fine of 970 million-ringgit.

During proceedings, a tearful Rosmah said she was “a victim”.

“My family has suffered. Have some humanity. Have some compassion.”

“The accused is not a hardened criminal,” her lawyer Jagjit Singh said. “She has never been involved in any malpractice. She has never had any convictions.”

But prosecutors sought maximum or near-maximum sentences for all three charges, calling corruption “the most vile of all diseases to affect society”.

Even having been sentenced, Rosmah will not go straight to jail, pending what could be a lengthy appeals process.

She remains on bail and still faces 17 other charges involving tax evasion and money laundering.

Born the only child of two teachers in the country’s south, Rosmah rose to become one of Malaysia’s most influential people.

She made headlines a decade ago for setting up a new unit under the prime minister’s office known as “FLOM”, an acronym for First Lady of Malaysia. The full-fledged department, which set critics’ tongues wagging, was tasked with handling Rosmah’s operational needs.

Her love for luxury, and in particular Hermes Birkin bags, came under the spotlight after 2018 raids in which police confiscated more than 500 handbags and 12,000 pieces of jewellery estimated to be worth $270 million.

This drew unflattering comparisons with one-time Philippines first lady and renowned shoe enthusiast Imelda Marcos — a big-spending woman who for years was a lightning rod for anger over alleged corruption.

– Multibillion-dollar scandal –

On Thursday, dressed in a peach-coloured traditional Malay dress and scarf with a floral print and matching face mask, Rosmah arrived in court escorted by police.

Her son and daughter also attended the court proceedings.

Najib was sent to prison nine days ago for an initial batch of charges linked to the multibillion-dollar financial scandal at state fund 1MDB that brought down his government in 2018.

He is currently on trial over four additional charges. He faces a maximum of 20 years in jail for abuse of power and up to 15 years for money laundering, if convicted.

Rosmah’s image had contributed to accusations that the ousted ruling establishment had lost touch with economically struggling and middle-class Malaysians.

“I think a lot of Malaysians will be happy that Rosmah has been found guilty,” said James Chin, professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania.

“Her image among the Malaysian public is bad. Many believe it was her lavish lifestyle that contributed to Najib’s downfall and subsequently landing himself in prison for corruption.”

The 1MDB scandal sparked investigations in the United States, Switzerland and Singapore, whose financial systems were believed to have been used to launder the money.

The US Justice Department has said more than $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB between 2009 and 2015 by high-level officials at the fund and their associates.