Jaws dropped today as a High Court judge in Kuala Lumpur refused to allow prosecutors to freeze the return of assets, which he said were not in his mind sufficiently proven to have been stolen, pending the appeal that has been brought against that judgement.
We are talking about a staggering RM80 million in loose change found in a flat in the swanky Pavilion complex belonging to a company owned by one of Najib’s cronies (namely Obyu Holdings owned by Bustari Yusof). This was where law enforcers were tipped off right after the election as being the place Rosmah Mansor had hidden her valuables.
Along with the cash were hundreds of Birkin handbags collected by Rosmah and jewellery amounting to a total value of over a billion Ringgit (US$250 million). The judge has said that Rosmah – or more precisely her very close friend Bustari Yusof – can have the treasure haul returned because investigators had not proven to his satisfaction that it was purchased with money stolen from 1MDB.
Pause for thought. Both Najib and wife Rosmah are now convicted kleptocrats having been found guilty of stealing hundreds of millions between them. More cases are going through the courts against them and their conduct in office was notorious.
Equally to the point is the fact that Najib’s earnings through his entire life are measurable in that he has been a paid public servant (an MP and minister) since the age of 23. Rosmah is a housewife, formerly also married to a modest civil servant and brought no money to her marriage. The couple could not have raised such sums in a thousand years in the honest conduct of their duties.
Najib’s brothers have also confirmed they inherited nothing from their antecedents and that to suggest that their father (the former PM Tun Razak) left Najib millions would besmirch the family name – something Najib has now achieved through his own actions.
Therefore, there can be no doubt in any observer’s mind that the contents of the Pavilion flat are ill-gotten gains. Certainly, Mr Yusuf has made no attempt to claim that these items were somehow his.
Indeed, a Lebanese jeweller has been frantically attempting to retrieve a good portion of the jewellery seized on the basis he had lent the pieces to Rosmah as part of a private viewing exercise.
Yet, none of this is good enough for the judge who has explained he needs to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that every dime of the loose cash in several currencies found at the flat can be positively traced to 1MDB, setting aside numerous other potential acts of theft, bribery and corruption.
Naturally, it cannot be done, especially with such a sum in multiple currencies and such a vast trove of goods purchased internationally.
As a result, just hours before the election that the Boys from UMNO fondly hope will reverse the ‘unfortunate turn of events’ following their defeat in 2014, the judge has ordered the ready cash be ‘returned’.
In theory, at least, such funds could provide just the injection of much needed moolah the party needs to carry out its traditional practice of buying votes, just at a time when it has been widely rumoured that the party is faced with an unprecedented shortage of liquid funds.
Or maybe Bustari Yusof and Rosmah have some better ideas over what to do with the truck loads of money the court has ordered be handed over. Have the serial numbers been recorded or markers added?
Meanwhile, outraged Malaysians have been offered the best possible example as to why legislation to introduce so-called Unexplained Wealth Orders are desperately needed in their country. This basic anti-money laundering device has been adopted widely throughout the world to prevent just such a ruling as was arrived at today in KL.
In effect, an Unexplained Wealth Order turns the tables on the likes of Rosmah, requiring her to explain how on earth she managed to come by such enormous wealth rather than demanding that law enforcers prove the origin of the cash and valuables found in suitcases in her storeroom.
In Britain, a wife of one foreign official found with such troves of cash has had the money confiscated based purely on her failure to be able to explain any means by which she could have come by the treasure in a legitimate way. Likewise, corrupted Russian oligarchs are starting to lose their yachts and palaces.
Sarawak Report suggests that KL’s law enforcers start counting the money to be handed back thoroughly note by note – as of course they should – so that each item can be logged before any is returned. That exercise should take a month or two, during which time a suitable law could be passed to freeze unexplained wealth should an honest government take office in the meantime.