By Rozanna Latiff
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) -A Malaysian court on Thursday sentenced Rosmah Mansor, the wife of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, to a decade in prison for seeking and receiving bribes in exchange for government contracts, just days after her husband was jailed for corruption.
The couple have been the focus of multiple graft investigations since Najib’s surprise election defeat in 2018, when voters’ anger over a separate, multi-billion dollar corruption scandal ended his nine years in power.
A flamboyant figure by Najib’s side, Rosmah was widely scorned in Malaysia for her extravagant lifestyle and penchant for Hermes Birkin bags, and faced repeated questions over her influence in government matters.
Rosmah will also have to pay a fine of 970 million ringgit ($216.45 million) – a record amount in Malaysia’s history – over three bribery charges, Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan said, adding that the prosecution proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
She will remain free on bail pending appeals to higher courts.
Rosmah, dressed in a yellow baju kurung – a traditional Malaysian long blouse and skirt – and matching headscarf, addressed the judge tearfully immediately after the verdict.
“I must admit that I’m very sad with what happened today,” she said. “Nobody saw me taking the money, nobody saw me counting the money…. but if that’s the conclusion, I leave it to God.”
Her lawyers had asked for a one-day jail sentence, while prosecutors sought “maximum or near maximum.”
Rosmah, 70, had pleaded not guilty to the three charges of soliciting and receiving bribes between 2016 and 2017 to help a company secure a $279 million solar power supply project from Najib’s government.
Prosecutors say Rosmah sought a bribe of 187.5 million ringgit ($41.80 million), and received 6.5 million ringgit from an official of the company that won the project.
Rosmah has argued that she was framed by her former aide as well as several government and company officials involved in the project.
She also faces 17 charges of money laundering and tax evasion in a separate case.
Her lawyer Jagjit Singh said Rosmah was shocked with the verdict.
“The fine imposed today is unprecedented…To say she is upset is putting it mildly,” he told reporters after the sentencing.
HUNDREDS OF HANDBAGS
Last week, Najib began serving a 12-year jail sentence after Malaysia’s top court upheld his conviction in a case linked to a multibillion-dollar graft scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). He remains on trial in four other corruption cases.
Najib was voted out of power amid public outrage over the 1MDB scandal, which is the subject of corruption and money laundering investigations in at least six countries.
The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that $4.5 billion were stolen from 1MDB, about $1 billion of which made their way into Najib’s personal bank accounts.
Some of the funds stolen from 1MDB were used to buy jewellery for Rosmah, including a $27 million pink diamond necklace, U.S. lawsuits say.
Police found 12,000 individual items of jewellery, 567 luxury handbags including brands such as Hermes and Chanel, 423 watches and $26 million in cash at properties linked to the couple following Najib’s unexpected defeat in the 2018 election.
($1 = 4.4815 ringgit)
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; additional reporting by Hasnoor Hussain, Ebrahim Harris and Mei Mei Chu; Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)