Her collection of designer handbags rivaled the shoe fetish of Imelda Marcos. Her jewelry was so ostentatious that one piece, a $27.3 million pink diamond pendant and necklace, earned a mention in a United States Department of Justice complaint on rampant corruption in Malaysia.
On Wednesday, Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Najib Razak, the disgraced former Malaysian prime minister, was arrested at the headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative capital. She is expected to be charged Thursday morning with multiple counts of money laundering.
She had already appeared three times before anticorruption investigators, answering questions on topics including more than $240,000 worth of anti-aging supplements that are believed to have been purchased with misappropriated government funds.
Like her husband, who faces multiple counts of money laundering, breach of trust, corruption and abuse of power, Ms. Rosmah, 66, has denied all accusations against her.
During his nine years in power from 2009 to 2018, Mr. Najib acquired a reputation as the paragon of power unchecked. American investigators accuse Mr. Najib of having diverted $731 million from the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, known as 1MDB, into his personal bank account. At least $4.5 billion in 1MDB money was stolen then laundered through American financial institutions, the United States Department of Justice says.
To cover up the financial malfeasance, Mr. Najib and his political machine resorted to censorship, cash handouts and even physical violence, his critics say.
Throughout Mr. Najib’s tenure, a bejeweled Ms. Rosmah stood by his side, and her fondness for luxury accouterments earned the scorn of the Malaysian public. Ms. Rosmah, who was the daughter of teachers, was cast as a kind of Lady Macbeth who led her husband, the scion of one of Malaysia’s most prominent political families, astray.
After Mr. Najib’s party lost national elections in May, bringing the opposition to power for the first time ever in Malaysian history, the police conducted raids on residences associated with Mr. Najib and Ms. Rosmah. Investigators were pictured loading police trucks with hundreds of orange-hued boxes believed to contain Hermès Birkin handbags, which can cost up to $300,000.
The Malaysian police said that the riches seized in the raids on six different properties were worth as much as $273 million. Found among the loot were 567 handbags, 423 watches, 14 tiaras and so much cash that it took three days to count it all.
In its inquiry that was released last year, the United States Department of Justice said that Ms. Rosmah’s $23 million, 22-carat pink diamond, which was set in a $4.3 million necklace, was purchased with money stolen from 1MDB.
At the luxury Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles in 2014, Ms. Rosmah chose 27 gold necklaces and bangles from a bespoke jeweler that were later paid for through $1.3 million in misappropriated funds, according to the Justice Department complaint.
Ms. Rosmah’s son from her first marriage, Riza Aziz, has been summoned repeatedly to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. A financier friend of Mr. Riza, Jho Low, is believed to have helped arrange the illegal siphoning of 1MDB money, according to the Malaysian authorities. In August, Mr. Low was charged in absentia with eight counts of money laundering. He has denied the charges.
American investigators accuse Mr. Low, who is the subject of an arrest warrant and is believed to be in hiding overseas, of having used 1MDB funds to purchase a $250 million yacht complete with a helicopter landing pad and private movie theater.
Ms. Rosmah has said that her position necessitated a certain amount of glamour.
“As a woman and as the wife of a leader, I have to look presentable, neat and keep up my appearance,” Ms. Rosmah was quoted as saying in a 2013 authorized biography. “It would be embarrassing for the people when other countries tease the P.M.’s wife for being unkempt.”
Another biography published last year, which featured a cartoon of Ms. Rosmah dispensing wisdom with Mr. Najib in comic-strip bubbles, gave further advice.
“The outside world will be watching us closely so pay attention to your manners and attitude,” the cartoon read, “don’t be arrogant and abuse your status.”
Sharon Tan contributed reporting.