Former Malaysian PM’s Wife Headed for Prison
Leaked documents indicate Rosmah Mansor guilty of taking bribes
Rosmah Mansor, who at the height of former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s power rivaled the Philippines’ Imelda Marcos’s reputation for greed and acquisitiveness, is likely to follow her disgraced husband to prison, according to a leaked court document published earlier this week by a fugitive blogger now in the UK.
Although the document, a research paper for the judge’s guidance, didn’t include a recommended sentence, it indicated the 70-year-old Rosmah would be judged guilty although she is expected to receive a relatively short time in prison. As with her husband, with whom she acted as a willing or even enthusiastic accomplice, she is likely to be free while she appeals the verdict through the appellate and federal courts. Although the process isn’t expected to take as long as Najib’s four-year slog through the courts, or to be as controversial.
The court had long been expected to deliver its verdict in Rosmah’s trial, which had concluded some time ago, on September 1. One legal authority said that despite the fact that the document was a draft, “the chances are 99.9 percent that Rosmah will be convicted.”
“It’s up to the judge to decide the sentence, of course,” said a well-connected political analyst. “It’s unlikely she will go to jail, she’ll be free on appeal, taking into account her age. She’ll get maybe five to 10 years in prison, which in practical terms means three or four years.”
From relatively modest beginnings, Rosmah studied at Universiti Malaya. She divorced her first husband at about the same time Najib divorced his first wife and in 1987, the two married as Najib began his climb through the rungs of power, becoming prime minister in 2009. She earned a reputation for astonishing avarice and thirst for power, irritating a major part of the country’s 32 million people by insisting she be called “the first lady” of Malaysia in contrast to previous premiers’ wives who, as Muslims, practiced modesty and stayed out of the limelight.
While Rosmah was indicted only on a single case involving solar power for schools in Sarawak, controversy had long swirled around her as the person to go to for special treatment for government contracts and land sales and acquisitions, in addition to advising her husband on political strategy. She was accused of playing a major role in engineering a second batch of sodomy charges that derailed the career of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and sent him back to prison for a second time.
The release of the 1-page document, which blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin published on his website Malaysia Today, was condemned by the Registrar of the Federal Court as an unacceptable violation of court protocol and a smear of court procedures. Kamarudin, who is believed to be close to Najib, published a similar document telegraphing Najib’s guilty verdict last week, earning outrage on the part of the courts and making him susceptible to contempt of court charges if he returns to the country.
“This office stresses that the judiciary will not be harassed by illegal and irresponsible acts meant to tarnish the integrity of the country's judicial system,” said the statement by the court.
Authorities said the document is a draft of a research report giving the basis for jailing Rosmah for use by the High Court judge in the corruption trial on allegations she sought RM187.5 million (US$41.7 million at current exchange rates) in 2016 from a construction firm, Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd. The bribe was alleged to help Jepak win a solar project worth RM1.25 billion in Sarawak schools. She faces additional charges involving RM1.5 million in bribes she received from Jepak in 2017.
Both Najib, who is now serving a 12-year prison sentence, and Rosmah were arrested following the 2018 national election that ended the 60-year reign of the Barisan Nasional, led by the United Malays National Organization amid charges of corruption among the entire leadership of the party and in fact the ruling national coalition. The two had chartered a private plane for Indonesia on the night of the election, but were stopped before they could get aboard.
Najib had led UMNO on an extraordinary spate of corruption with the help of Penang-born financier Low Taek Jho, centering around the failed government investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, which collapsed in a blaze of corruption and mismanagement that is believed to have cost the taxpayers at least US$5.4 billion although some estimates put the cost far higher.
At one point, the equivalent of US$681 million was funneled through Naib’s Kuala Lumpur account at AM Bank before disappearing out to an unknown destination. He is believed to have stolen US$1 billion or more. While a significant amount of assets have been recovered, the cash is apparently still out there, as is Jho Low, as he likes to be known, who is believed to remain on the run in China.
Rosmah was seen partying in New York with celebrities along with Jho Low, often in expensive jewelry including a striking diamond necklace said to be worth US$23 million. She was also seen with a pink diamond ring worth millions. The interior of the 300-foot yacht Equanimity built for Jho Low was said to have been designed by Rosmah, and there is speculation that it was actually built for her. The vessel was eventually commandeered by Malaysian officials after a long search and sold by authorities.
She favored Birkin handbags manufactured by Hermes, which, according to sources, she demanded that those accompanying her on shopping trips buy for her. After their arrest, police filled five trucks with cash in 26 currencies totaling US$28.6 million plus 457 handbags, including Hermes bags worth US$12 million, 423 watches valued at US$19 million, and 234 pairs of sunglasses worth US$93,000. Included were 1,400 necklaces, 2,200 rings, 2,100 bangles.
From his air-conditioned hospital jail cell in Kajang, Najib remains an influential political figure within UMNO although he is barred from competing in general elections due in September 2023 unless he gets a royal pardon, as his supporters are advocating. In the meantime, another verdict is expected soon in the corruption case of UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and at least two other top UMNO party wheelhorses.