Police Seize Bags Filled With $29 Million Cash in 1MDB Probe

(Bloomberg) -- Malaysian police seized about $29 million in cash, hundreds of handbags, as well as jewelry and watches in raids linked to former Prime Minister Najib Razak amid an investigation into 1MDB.

In a search of an empty apartment on May 18, police found cash equivalent to 114 million ringgit in 26 denominations in 35 bags, while another 37 had jewelry and watches, Commercial Crime Investigation Department Director Amar Singh Ishar Singh said on Friday. Najib’s children resided in two other units in the same residential complex, which were also searched, though most of the seizures were made at the empty unit, Singh said.

Najib has been the focus of public attention as Malaysia ramps up its probe of alleged embezzlement and money laundering linked to 1MDB, the state investment company that took shape under his watch. Soon after taking power this month, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad ordered the police to probe all criminal behavior regardless of who could be implicated, and barred his predecessor from leaving the country.

Najib, who has consistently denied wrongdoing, has seen the police search his house and former office, and been called to two meetings with the anti-corruption commission.

Read QuickTake Q&A: How Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal Shook the Financial World

The police also took 284 boxes of handbags from the empty unit and 150 bags from one of the occupied apartments.

“This is the first such case that we’ve had so far,” Singh said, when asked if he had ever seen a seizure of similar scope during his time. “I have authenticated the money, the money is genuine. I even went that far, and counted the money.”

Singh declined to say who owned the apartments, and would only refer to the owner by an honorific title. The three searched units were all at a luxury apartment complex called Pavilion Residences, which boasts penthouses as large as 12,300 square feet (1,143 sq m).

Money Machines

It took the authorities three days to quantify the seized cash, even with help from 11 money counting machines, 21 central bank officers and an audit officer from Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd., Singh said.

Valuing the jewelry, watches and handbags pose another set of challenges. The police have been in talks with experts to authenticate and put price tags on the items, and they have discussed with Hermes International on getting help with verifying the handbags, many of which are of that brand, by sending over photos. Singh expects to announce an estimate of the items’ worth next week.

The police also seized half a million ringgit and other items in a separate search at Najib’s residence. In all, law enforcement has conducted 12 searches and recorded 30 statements as part of the entire 1MDB investigation, Singh said.

Singh disputed the credibility of reports that have been circulating in recent days on social media -- which purportedly showed mobile phone photos of items seized from the raids -- saying they are false and no officers bar the chief were allowed to bring phones in during the operations.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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