This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Former Malaysian first lady Rosmah Mansor – who, along with her husband, ex-PM Najib Razak, stands accused of engaging in staggering levels of official corruption – complained yesterday through her lawyer that police had damaged hundreds of seized luxury handbags worth millions of dollars.
What’s more, she also demanded that authorities reimburse her for the damaged goods – predictably prompting a volley of criticism online.
In a hearing on Wednesday, Rosmah’s lawyer, Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, told a Kuala Lumpur court that the police had "showed absolutely no respect for the goods" when they allegedly tagged them with "magic ink pens" after confiscating them, adding: "There was no respect whatsoever for the items. The handbags are worth millions and that was how they treated it.”
The cost of the damage may run into the millions of dollars, according to Abdullah, who said the government should "be responsible to pay for the damage or replace the products."
Both Najib and Rosmah are facing a raft of charges in relation to the 1MDB scandal, one of the largest misappropriations of public funds in history, which saw billions of dollars siphoned off from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund during Najib’s administration. Rosmah alone has a total of 20 charges against her, including three counts of soliciting bribes, five counts of failure to declare income and 12 charges of money laundering.
The alleged damage to the handbags – many of them Hermes Birkins, which sell for as much as $300,000 each – was discovered when Rosmah and her lawyer inspected the seized goods at Bank Negara, where they are being held, on February 22 as part of a separate lawsuit. After hearing yesterday’s complaint, High Court Judge Muhammad Jamil Hussin allowed an application from Najib to inspect the items along with his lawyer.
This isn’t the first time Rosmah’s apparent fixation on luxury bags caused a public outcry. When the bags – more than 500 of them – were first confiscated by police back in 2018, Malaysian netizens quickly seized on the conspicuous consumption as evidence of the couple’s misdeeds, bestowing on Rosmah the mocking nickname "Bag Lady" in the process.
In the raid, police seized items worth more than US$270 million, including more than 12,000 pieces of jewelry allegedly bought using stolen public funds.
Yesterday’s hearing, and Rosmah’s demand that she be reimbursed for the alleged damage, revived the online criticism, with netizens caustically weighing in on what they characterized as the brazenness, and irony, of the request.
"Alternative headline: Rosmah wants taxpayers to pay for repairs of bags that were bought using taxpayers money," Twitter user @sarawaklaksa97 said.
Others, meanwhile, mourned the bags’ defacing, albeit not for Rosmah’s sake.
“If Rosmah’s bags were defaced as alleged, I’m disappointed and sad simply because I feel for the bags that deserved a better fate,” another user said. "I feel nothing for her."
“Rosmah’s pissed her seized Birkins are damaged,” said another. "Anyway I hope the handbags are ok because we may need to sell them to get our money back.”
The 1MDB corruption trial against Najib, which started in April of 2019, wrapped up on June 5, and a verdict is expected on July 28. Rosmah’s graft trial, which relates to nearly $50 million dollars in bribes she allegedly accepted to help a company secure a lucrative government contract, is scheduled to resume on July 13.