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Malaysia

Malaysian police seize millions worth of valuables from ex-PM's private houses

Amar Singh, head of Malaysia's Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID), displays a photo of items from a raid during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia June 27, 2018.
Amar Singh, head of Malaysia's Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID), displays a photo of items from a raid during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

Police in Malaysia on Wednesday confiscated valuables worth up to the equivalent of 238 Million Euro from houses belonging to the country’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak. The items included cash, and up to 12000 pieces of jewelry, watches and luxury handbags.

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The searches are part of investigations into the misuse of funds of the 1MDB Sovereign Wealth Fund, and the role of Najib Razak who is suspected of abuse of power and misuse of public money.

It was public knowledge in Malaysia that Najib Razak had amassed money, but the people didn’t realize how much it was.

I’m shocked,” says K. Arumugam, the director of the NGO Suaram, which follows human rights issues in Malaysia.

“The value has gone up to Malaysian Ringit 1 billion. It is an unimaginable amount of value for those items. And if you ask me, I personally didn’t expect the value to be so high. And now, realising [that it is] such a huge amount of money, I’m shocked!

Najib Razak was in power from 2009 to 2018, but earlier this year lost the elections where he was running against Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, the now 92 year old Mahatir Mohammed.

K. Arumugam pointed out he lost because since the outset he took steps to suppress political and social dissent, but especially because he was perceived as utterly corrupt.

So where what money did he use to pay for all these watches and shoes and bags, surely he didn’t pay for it from his state salary?

That’s what the police is going to investigate now.

“What appears to be the case is, a big chunk of the funds that were raised were not used for its intended purpose of investment, and development and real estate,” says Ibrahim Suffian, of the Merdaka Opinion Poll Agency, a political analyst.

“Over the past years, more than half of the total assets of the 1MDB Fund, some 4 billion Euro, went missing.

“This is I think where the investigators are trying to uncover and establish a link between the assets they have retrieved in the US, such as luxury apartments and mansions and yachts, private jets, paintings and so on with 1MDB,” he says.

“And now this disclosure in Kuala Lumpur about these assets, the jewelry, the cash, the next step is the link between this material and whether or not it was paid for using funds derived from 1MDB.”

The core of Malaysia’s political structure may have been affected by the case.

“It tends to imply the level of corruption in all the institutions that are supposed to carry out checks and balances of the entire system,” says K. Arumugam. “Including the judiciary, including legislature, including the executive system, the whole system seems to have been captured by Najib and his cronies to the extent that they looted massive amounts of the wealth of the nation.

“So from a human rights perspective, we feel that this is a kind of economic disaster the country has undergone.

He says he is happy that voters choose to replace the Najib regime with a new government.

“And now it is the duty of the new government to revamp and reform the institutions and through that process follow the rule of law and bring about justice to the people and punish those who are found guilty and have looted the wealth of the nation,” he says.

But it is the people of Malaysia who are going to foot the bill.

“1MDB went out to the commercial financial sector in order to raise money by issuing bonds,” says Suffian

“These bonds [were] guaranteed by the Malaysian government.

“So the money that has been used to purchase assets as well as allegations about money that has gone missing, all the money that has been borrowed. And so the issue of 1MDB [goes] beyond the sensational disclosure that we have been seeing for the last couple of years. We need to understand: how will the Malaysian government and ultimately the tax payer be free of all of these expenses. B

Because while all of these disclosures are going on,] in the end of the day, somebody still has to pay the creditors of 1MDB.”

He points out that the money was borrowed form pension funds from financial institutions of the world, and ultimately they have to be paid off.

“So right now it is the Malaysian government that is servicing these debts and that’s where the money is coming from, from the Malaysian tax payer,” he says.

It is now up to the new government of Mahatir Mohammed if it will live up to its promises, investigate the 1MDB case to the core, and bring the culprits, even if that includes a former Prime Minister, to justice. And if that happens, it will be a first in Malaysia.

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