KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Locksmiths were called in to break open an old safe inside the grand private home of Malaysia’s ousted prime minister on Thursday, as the spectacle of a police search at his residence drew the world’s media and onlookers from across the country.
In scenes scarcely imaginable before the May 9 general election, which Najib Razak stunningly lost, armed police entered his home late on Wednesday as part of a renewed probe into a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal.
Officers cordoned off the street and reporters camped outside the sprawling compound in the upscale Kuala Lumpur neighborhood of Taman Duta. For the past 24 hours many have streamed the drama live online, drawing thousands of views and crowd at the scene that at one stage swelled to 100 people.
For a while, all attention was focused on a police truck being loaded with seized items. Then the old safe - and how to get it open - emerged as a stumbling block after Najib’s lawyer said it had not been unlocked in two decades because the family had lost the key.
It was only long in to a sweltering afternoon on Thursday that the two locksmiths tasked with opening it arrived, walking past journalists and ambling up the small hill towards the house - one wearing a jacket emblazoned with the safe’s manufacturer’s name: Lion Steelworks Sdn Bhd.
“Can open, is not difficult, we manufactured it,” said Lion’s manager, Tan See Chong, in a text message confirming the men work at the firm. “It’s a very old safe ... this type will take longer time because of anti-drill features,” he said.
Through the night and day police vehicles brought officers to the home, while journalists pointed cameras and tape recorders at Najib’s family and friends arriving in BMW and Merecedes cars, as the search went on.
Amer Kent, who voted against Najib’s party, climbed out of his car and said he had driven all the way from Penang, some 350 km (220 miles) “to see the thief’s house,” and take a photograph to post on his Facebook page. He snapped - and then drove off.
On Wednesday squad cars had filled the street outside Najib’s home some 20 minutes after he had elliptically tweeted asking “forgiveness for past sins,” while returning from prayers on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday.
Police pored over “thousands and thousands of personal items,” according to Najib’s lawyer, seizing handbags, before their attention turned to the safe.
“Although the police team said that they would be leaving after packing the last box ... drilling continues although it is past 5 p.m now and there is absolutely no peace and quiet at his residence,” Najib’s lawyer, Harpal Singh Grewal, said in a statement to journalists outside the house in the early evening.
“This harassment has continued for almost 18 hours and nothing meaningful has come from the search.”
Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Richard Balmforth