KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Rosmah Mansor, the wife of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, has drawn questions over her spending habits and luxurious lifestyle from citizens grappling with a rising cost of living.
Her penchant for handbags has prompted Malaysians to draw parallels with a passion for accessories displayed by Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, who owned hundreds of pairs of designer shoes.
On Thursday, Rosmah was charged with 17 counts of money laundering, and pleaded not guilty to all of them.
Najib has been charged with money laundering, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust over millions of dollars the U.S. Justice Department says were misappropriated from state fund 1MDB.
Najib, who lost an election in May, has pleaded not guilty to the charges and consistently denied wrongdoing.
Here are details about Rosmah:
Born in 1951, she hails from Kuala Pilah, a town in Malaysia’s southwestern state of Negeri Sembilan, and studied sociology and anthropology before taking a master’s degree in the United States.
In 1987, Rosmah married Najib, then Malaysia’s youth and sports minister, the second marriage for both. They have two children, and five stepchildren from earlier marriages.
Najib became prime minister in 2009.
In 2011, news of a division in the prime minister’s office devoted to the First Lady of Malaysia (FLOM) sparked anger from the opposition and public, prompting the removal of its website listing. The incident fed speculation that Rosmah’s role in government extended beyond being the prime minister’s wife.
Domestic and international media said Rosmah was a big spender, with the Wall Street Journal reporting credit charges of at least $6 million between 2008 and 2015 on shopping sprees in London, New York and elsewhere.
In 2015, she faced public ire for complaining at having to pay 1,200 ringgit ($300) for a single hair-dyeing session, at a time when Malaysia’s minimum wage was 900 ringgit a month.
Rosmah’s penchant for designer accessories has been a theme on Malaysian social media, particularly an array of handbags estimated to cost thousands of dollars each turned up by police searches at premises linked to the couple.
Police seized 567 luxury handbags, including 272 Hermes bags they said were worth nearly $13 million, in the raids.
Najib has said most of the seized items were gifts.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) said nearly $30 million from the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), was spent on jewelry for Rosmah, including a $27 million pink diamond necklace set.
Najib told Reuters in an interview that his wife never received the pink diamond set.
Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi, Joseph Sipalan and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Clarence Fernandez