Graft trial told Malaysian ex-PM’s wife was influential

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Rosmah Mansor

Rosmah Mansor, right, wife of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, arrives at Kuala Lumpur High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. The graft trial of Rosmah has begun, with a top prosecutor saying she wielded considerable influence. (AP Photo)

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The wife of Malaysian ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak went on trial Wednesday for alleged corruption in the same courthouse as her husband, with a top prosecutor saying she wielded considerable influence due to her “overbearing nature.”

Although Rosmah Mansor holds no official post, deputy public prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram said she “placed herself in a position where she was able to influence decisions in the public sector.” Evidence will show she was “actuated by a corrupt intention” at all times in seeking and receiving bribes related to a 1.25 billion ringgit ($303 million) solar energy project, Sri Ram said.

“She occupied no official position. However, she wielded considerable influence by reason of her overbearing nature,” he said.

Rosmah, 68, pleaded not guilty last year to two charges of corruption linked to a project to supply and install solar energy panels in 369 schools in eastern Sarawak state on Borneo island. She was accused of soliciting bribes from a manager at Jepak Holdings for her help in securing the contract and receiving a total 6.5 million ringgit ($1.6 million) in cash.

The Education Ministry awarded Jepak the contract without any open tender. Separately, Rosmah was also charged with laudering illegal proceeds and tax evasion in a multibillion-dollar graft scandal that led to her husband’s shocking electoral loss in May 2018.

Rosmah didn’t speak to reporters at the courthouse, where her husband Najib was in the dock for a graft trial at another courtroom on the same floor. At one point, he walked into the courtroom to support his wife.

Sri Ram said Rosmah met two officials from Jepak through a meeting arranged by her former aide, Rizal Mansor, at her private home in 2016. He said a Jepak official was prepared to offer a large sum of money to Rosmah for her help in the form of a “political donation” to her husband.

“The accused knew that the so-called ‘political donation’ was meant as a bribe for her. Payment was contingent on her using her influence to obtain the solar hybrid contract” for Jepak, Sri Ram said.

He said Rosmah had initially asked for 17% of the project value, or over 200 million ringgit ($58.5 million), but later agreed to take 187.5 million ringgit ($45.4 million), or 15% of the contract value.

“She used Rizal Mansor to make her demands and to negotiate the bribe that was to be paid to her,” Sri Ram said. Rosmah was given 5 million ringgit in cash when Jepak won the contract and another 1.5 million ringgit when Jepak received payments from the Education Ministry, he added.

Rizal was initially charged alongside Rosmah but prosecutors dropped charges against him, in move that will likely see him turn a prosecution witness.

Anger over government corruption led to the May 9 election loss for Najib and his coalition, ushering in the first change of power since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Rosmah’s opulent lifestyle was thrown into the public spotlight after police conducted raids on residences associated with her family. Police seized hundreds of boxes of Hermes Birkin handbags, 423 watches, 14 tiaras and other jewelries plus cash estimated to be worth over $267 million. Several other former high-level officials have also been charged with corruption.

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