Former Malaysian first lady Rosmah Mansor (pictured) has received 17 charges, including 12 for money laundering after her husband, Najib Razak, was handed numerous corruption charges in the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal.
Rosmah, who is reviled in Malaysia for her conspicuous consumption and imperious manner, pleaded not guilty to money laundering and tax evasion.
The first 12 charges related to deposits to her bank account from 2013-17, totalling more than 7 million ringgit (US$1.68 million). Five further charges involved tax evasion on the deposits.
Cash, jewellery and hundreds of designer handbags worth as much as US$273 million were seized from properties linked to Najib and Rosmah after the election defeat in May.
Prosecutors said Rosmah “engaged directly in a transaction that involves proceeds of unlawful activity”.
The 66-year-old was arrested by Malaysian anti-corruption officers on Wednesday after being questioned for a third time over alleged theft and money laundering at the 1MDB sovereign-wealth fund.
She was released after spending the night in detention at the anti-corruption agency office.
Rosmah received bail of 2 million ringgit but was ordered to hand over her passport and was banned from contacting any witnesses. Prosecutors asked for bail of 10 million ringgit.
Lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram told the court Rosmah’s offences were “very serious” and she “had approached a witness with a request to give a statement in her favour”.
Rosmah is often compared to former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, who left behind more than 1,000 pairs of shoes and an outhouse full of Sandwich Spread, amid the popular uprising in 1986.
Legal sources say the criminal trials might be prolonged.
“For the trial and all subsequent appeals to conclude, this may take some years,” said N Surendran from rights group Lawyers for Liberty.
The lawyer said charging Najib and Rosmah sent out a message that “corruption in government will no longer be tolerated”.
Rosmah’s Birkin handbags and jewellery were heavily criticised ahead of May’s general election, raising questioning about whether Najib’s wage had paid for them.
Najib, 65, also made a separate court appearance in connection with the numerous charges against him, which he denies.
His charges centre around 42 million ringgit that was reportedly transferred into his account in what prosecutors say was a bribe from SRC International, a former 1MBD subsidiary.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who defeated his former protege in May, launched the corruption crackdown.
“There is no idea of revenge and anything like that… If you steal money, you will be charged in court,” the 93-year-old said, according to Bernama.
Bejewelled:Rosmah Mansor in 2009. Picture credit: Wikimedia