Former Malaysian first lady Rosmah Mansor was ordered to serve 10 years in prison after being found guilty on Thursday of soliciting and receiving bribes during her husband’s corruption-tainted administration, a week after he was imprisoned over the massive looting of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund.
Rosmah was convicted on a charge of soliciting 187.5 million ringgit ($55 million Cdn) and two charges of receiving 6.5 million ringgit ($1.98 million Cdn) between 2016 and 2017 to help a company secure a project to provide solar energy panels to schools on Borneo island.
The court sentenced her to 10 years in prison on each charge, to be served concurrently, and a total fine of 970 million ringgit ($286 million Cdn). She will be allowed to remain free on bail pending her appeal to higher courts.
High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan said prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Rosmah corruptly solicited bribes and received money as a reward for herself. He said her defence was a “bare denial, devoid of credible evidence.”
Earlier, Rosmah made an emotional plea in court, saying she was saddened and felt she wasn’t given justice. She said she had never solicited any funds or taken a single cent while she was heading charity foundations during her time as the prime minister’s wife.
She also decried as political persecution the events that led to Najib being jailed and her family being made to suffer. “I do not even know the cost of the project. So I am just telling the truth and nothing else but the truth,” she said. “If that’s your conclusion, I surrender to God.”
Defence lawyer Jagjit Singh later told reporters that the amount of the fine was the largest ever in Malaysia’s history. He said Rosmah was shocked and upset and that they plan to appeal to higher courts. Under the law, each charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of five times the bribes solicited and received.
Husband begins 12-year prison term
Her conviction was another blow after Najib began a 12-year prison term last Tuesday after losing his final appeal in one of the five graft cases against him involving the multibillion-dollar pilfering of 1MDB.
Before the verdict, Judge Zaini also rejected Rosmah’s application to disqualify him after an alleged guilty judgment leaked online. Police said the leaked document was work done within the court’s research unit and was not the judgment, but Rosmah’s defense said they lost confidence the judge could be fair.
The judge said he didn’t request the research and that those were not his grounds. He said he didn’t read the documents, had done his own research and wasn’t prejudiced against Rosmah. Malaysia’s top court earlier slammed the action of the website, run by a blogger based in England, as “a deliberate act” to smear the court’s reputation.
Last week, the same website published a document it said was the Federal Court’s guilty verdict against Najib, just before the ruling was read out in court. The court has said that leaked document was a working draft of the ruling. The court has filed complaints with police over both leaks.
Najib and Rosmah have been hit with multiple charges of graft after the shocking ouster of his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in the 2018 elections, fuelled by public anger over the 1MDB scandal. UMNO has since returned to power after defections caused the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 polls.
Rosmah’s trial shed light on her alleged sway in the government since her husband took office in 2009. Prosecutors said Rosmah wielded considerable influence due to her “overbearing nature,” even though she held no official position. Witnesses testified that a special department, called First Lady of Malaysia, was set up to handle Rosmah’s affairs.
Her former aide, who was jointly charged with Rosmah but later testified for the prosecution, told the court that many businesspeople lobbied Rosmah for help to secure government projects. The aide testified Rosmah was feared by civil servants and requests from her department were often swiftly carried out.
The court also heard that she spent 100,000 ringgit a month ($29,350 Cdn) to hire online propagandists to deflect criticism of her lavish lifestyle that led to her being despised by many Malaysians.
Huge collection of luxury items
After Najib lost power, police raided family residences and seized hundreds of boxes of luxurious Hermes Birkin handbags, 423 watches, 14 tiaras and other jewelry plus cash estimated at more than 1.1 billion ringgit ($324 million Cdn).
During her trial, 23 prosecution witnesses testified but only two defence witnesses were called, including Rosmah. She told the court she was never involved in government affairs and that her former aide was a corrupt liar who had used her name to solicit bribes and pocketed the money himself.
Rosmah has also been charged with laundering illegal proceeds and tax evasion linked to 1MDB in another trial that hasn’t started.
1MDB was a development fund that Najib set up after taking office. Investigators allege more than $4.5 billion US ($5.9 billion Cdn) was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates through layers of bank accounts in the U.S. and other countries to finance Hollywood films and extravagant purchases that included hotels, a luxury yacht, art works and jewelry.