KUALA LUMPUR: Rosmah Mansor, the luxury-loving wife of Malaysia's former prime minister, was Thursday charged with money laundering and tax evasion linked to a multi-billion-dollar scandal that helped bring down his government.
The 66-year-old pleaded not guilty to 17 charges of money laundering and tax evasion at a court complex where her husband Najib Razak was also making a separate appearance in connection with the alleged plunder of state funds.
Rosmah was allowed to post bail of two million ringgit ($480,00) and ordered to surrender her passport. She was also barred from contacting any witness.
Prosecutors had sought 10 million ringgit in bail, citing the seriousness of the charges, which could result in Rosmah spending the rest of her life in prison.
Lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram told the court that Rosmah "had approached a witness with a request to give a statement in her favour".
In the charge sheets, prosecutors said "you engaged directly in a transaction that involves proceeds of unlawful activity" in violation of laws against money laundering.
The first 12 charges involved deposits to a single bank account belonging to her from 2013-2017 totalling more than seven million ringgit, and the five other charges were for dodging taxes on the deposits.
Prosecutor Gopal told the court Rosmah's alleged offences were "very serious" as he justified the high bail amount sought.
Defence lawyers sought bail of 250,000 ringgit.
Rosmah, wearing an orange dress and scarf, arrived under heavy security at the court complex after being arrested Wednesday and held overnight at the headquarters of the country's anti-corruption agency, which had subjected her to three rounds of questioning.
At court on Thursday, she sat quietly in the dock and did not look at the gallery, where her family members were seated.
Known for love of bling
Rosmah's love of designer handbags, jewellery and other trappings of wealth became a target for critics ahead of last May's election, won by a disparate coalition led by former leader Mahathir Mohamad.
While she was being charged on Thursday, her husband -- also out on bail -- made a separate court appearance in connection with some of the more than two dozen charges lodged against him.
Najib, 65, has denied any wrongdoing despite revelations that hundreds of millions of dollars ended up in his personal bank accounts.
A central issue in the May election that ousted Najib was that his family and cronies looted billions of dollars from state fund 1MDB in a fraud ring that stretched from Singapore to Switzerland.
After the election loss, a stash of cash, jewellery and hundreds of designer handbags worth as much as $273 million was seized from properties linked to the couple in raids around Kuala Lumpur.
Rosmah is often compared to Imelda Marcos, who left behind more than a thousand pairs of shoes after her husband, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, was ousted in a popular uprising in 1986.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 93, who came back from retirement to challenge Najib, has launched a crackdown against corruption involving people in the previous government.