September 2, 2022
KUALA LUMPUR – Rosmah Mansor wept in court on Thursday after being convicted for corruption, as she sought the court’s compassion for her plight as a wife forced to lead the family on her own after her husband, former prime minister Najib Razak, was sent to prison.
But her tears are unlikely to gain her many sympathisers among ordinary Malaysians.
Details of her high-end lifestyle have been documented in the media for years, and used by critics to accuse her and Najib of being out of touch with the common folk and their daily struggles.
Shortly after Najib lost the 2018 election and his premiership, a police raid of properties linked to his family yielded an extraordinary hoard of luxury items worth a whopping RM1.1 billion (S$342.7 million) in total.
Among these were 12,000 pieces of jewellery, over 500 luxury handbags and 423 watches. Included in the haul was a made-to-order Hermes Birkin bag valued at RM1.6 million.
Najib, during the first of his five trials relating to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, admitted to spending over RM466,000 on a Chanel watch as a birthday present for Rosmah while the couple were in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2014.
The court would eventually convict him of misappropriating over RM42 million of public funds which found its way to his personal bank account – and helped pay for the watch.
Even Rosmah’s attempts to relate to the electorate have backfired. When Najib’s government implemented the goods and services tax in 2015, she talked about how she too had to cope with rising prices, inadvertently revealing she forked out RM500 for a tailored baju kurung, and RM1,200 for a home visit from a hairdresser. The monthly minimum wage at the time was RM900.
Meanwhile US investigators probing the 1MDB scandal said US$27.3 million (S$38.2 million) of the embezzled funds was used to buy a rare pink diamond necklace for Rosmah, a claim she has denied.
Rosmah, however, was not born in the lap of luxury. Her parents were schoolteachers in Negeri Sembilan state. She has two children from her first marriage, before she married Najib in 1987 – and has two children with him.
Her eldest son, Riza Aziz, is a Hollywood film producer who was alleged to have financed several major films using funds originating from 1MDB. Among the films was the Wolf Of Wall Street, starring Leonardo di Caprio and released in 2013. Mr Riza has since been sued by 1MDB over the funds.
Rosmah courted attention soon after Najib ascended to premiership in 2009, when a special unit was established under the Prime Minister’s office called FLOM, an acronym for the First Lady of Malaysia. The wives of Malaysian premiers had never been referred to as the first lady before this.
On Thursday in court, Rosmah again referred to herself as the former first lady, and reiterated her contributions as patron of the child development foundation Permata. The organisation received over RM50 million in public funds in 2018, and had drawn flak for funding one of Rosmah’s trips to Britain.
“This is something no other wife of a prime minister has ever done,” Rosmah said, referring to the foundation.