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Malaysian police to quiz Najib and wife soon over haul of riches

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Malaysian Police's Commercial Crime Investigation Department director Amar Singh showing to reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday photos of the items seized from the homes of Mr Najib and his wife.

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIAN police said on Wednesday that they would soon question former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife, after having found nearly US$275 million in jewellery, handbags, watches and other items in premises linked to the couple.

The authorities are investigating Mr Najib as part of their probe into how billions of dollars went missing from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which was founded by the former premier.

Since his shock election loss to Mahathir Mohamad in May, Mr Najib has been barred from leaving the country, questioned by the anti-graft agency and has had his personal and family's homes searched as part of the 1MDB probe.

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Amar Singh, head of the police commercial crime division, said the retail value of the items seized from six properties linked to the former leader was between RM900 million and RM1.1 billion (S$307.9 million and S$376.3 million).

Mr Singh told reporters: "This is the biggest seizure in the Malaysian history."

He said more than 150 police officers and external experts took nearly a month to value the seized items.

Jewellery accounted for the biggest portion of the seizure. There were 12,000 pieces of jewellery valued at between RM660 million and RM880 million, he said. The single most expensive item was a diamond necklace worth at least RM6.4 million.

The authorities also found RM116.7 million in cash, slightly higher than previously disclosed. Mr Singh said it took 22 central bank officials using six cash-counting machines three days to count the money.

Luxury handbags and watches worth millions of dollars were also seized. Mr Singh said the police plan to take statements from Mr Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, on the ownership of the seized items.

"We should be calling them soon," he said. "We have to verify if they were gifts from people, and if so, who are these gifts were from."

In an exclusive interview with Reuters last week, Mr Najib said most of the items seized from his homes were gifts to his wife and daughter and had nothing to do with 1MDB.

He said his son-in-law Daniyar Nazarbayev, the nephew of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, had also gifted many handbags to Rosmah.

He also said that the cash found in his house belonged to his political party.

Mr Najib has long faced criticism from Malaysians for his family's lavish spending. A prime minister earns a fixed salary of RM22,826.65 a month and cannot invest in businesses or stocks while in office.

Mr Najib earned an additional monthly salary of RM16,000 as a Member of Parliament.

Mr Singh said police had seized a total of 567 handbags in 37 brands from Mr Najib's homes.

The Hermes bags - 272 in total - are worth nearly US$13 million, he said. The rest have not been evaluated, but the collection includes a custom-made handbag by Los Angeles-based House of Bijan, known to be patronised by the world's richest people.

The police also found 423 watches worth RM78 million and 234 pairs of sunglasses. The most expensive watch is a Rolex Paul Newman Daytona worth US$869,565.

Many Malaysians reacted with disbelief on social media as the police listed the items and their estimated worth at a news conference broadcast live.

Dr Mahathir, in an interview with Reuters last week, said Mr Najib was responsible for the 1MDB scandal and that the authorities have built "an almost perfect case" against him.

The US Department of Justice has said a total of US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund.

Last week, Mr Najib said he shouldn't be blamed for the alleged stealing from 1MDB, and declared he knew nothing about the money from the state fund that appeared in his bank account.