KUALA LUMPUR: With her exquisite handbags, expensive spending habits and luxurious lifestyle, Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Malaysia’s then-Prime Minister Najib Razak, was living life writ large.
Fast forward to May 10, 2018, when Razak’s political grip crumbled after Malaysia’s elections, and the world had a glimpse inside the extravagant world of Malaysia’s own Imelda Marcos.
A few days after Razak and Mansor were barred from leaving the country, Malaysian police raided their homes and properties for evidence linking the pair to the 1MDB investigation. The police confirmed after the raid that they had “seized 284 boxes of handbags, 72 luggage bags, and tons of jewelry and cash.”
Like Imelda’s obsession for shoes, Mansor had an obsession with exquisite, branded bags.
“I feel it is a show of power and status,” said Karen Hoisington, a Singapore-based socialite and brand consultant. She is aware of the larger-than-life personality and lifestyle of Mansor.
“Rosmah has the means to get what she wants and her husband has certainly funded much of it,” she said.
It has long been rumored that Mansor was living beyond the means of her husband’s salary as a politician. A prime minister’s annual salary in Malaysia is less than $72,000.
On Tuesday, when Mansor was called to testify at the anti-graft agency in Kuala Lumpur, she came in style, toting a striking red handbag to go along with her blue and red traditional Malay assemble.
Netizens and fashionistas were quick to point out that the boxy, quilted red bag Mansor clutched bore a striking resemblance to the Versace’s Demetra Barocco-quilted Nappa leather handbag.
The Versace Demetra bag costs up to $2,765.
However, it is just one of the many expensive bags that Mansor is rumored to own, including her collection of Berkin bags.
According to Fortune magazine’s online site, a Birkin bag is considered a good investment because they “regularly sell on the secondary market for more than their original sale price.”
Hoisington told Arab News that “women like Rosmah feel a sense of entitlement. She must have sacrificed quite a lot to be a public person under scrutiny.”
She said that Mansor may feel she needs to be “rewarded” for helping firm up her husband’s success.
“I can’t guess what all her handbags will cost. That includes all the top designer brands, but I will make a guess that she would easily have spent around $5 million on bags alone,” said Hoisington
Mansor’s extravagant lifestyle sits uneasily with many in Malaysia.
In 2015, she received criticism over her complaints about a high-priced ‘$300 beehive hairdo’ after her husband imposed the GST in Malaysia. “But what about housewives like us, with no income?” she lamented.
In 2017, Malaysians discovered that Mansor had bought a 22-carat rare pink diamond necklace set. The jewelry cost $30 million, which the US Department of Justice said was funded from 1MDB.
Mansor defended her favorite pastime of shopping in her 2013 autobiography, saying: “I have bought some jewelry and dresses with my own money. What is wrong with that?”
At the same time, she would offer outlandish advice to Malaysians. In 2016, as head of the Association of Wives of the Ministers and Deputy Ministers, she told Malaysians to tighten their belts during Ramadan and avoid “overspending.”
In pursuit of power, Mansor’s bizarre lifestyle included a rumored penchant for black magic and plastic surgery. This was highlighted by her estranged daughter Azrene Ahmad in her lengthy Instagram post, where she described her mother’s spending on “shamans, witch doctors, aesthetic doctors and the like.”
In a website posting, Singapore-based plastic surgeon Dr. Siew Tuck Wah claimed that the ex-prime minister’s wife distorted face showed she had at least five surgeries.
Hoisington said that Mansor might be under pressure to maintain a public profile that befits her status. “Madam Rosmah must have been advised that this was what a prime minister’s wife should look like, wear and own,” she said.
“Rosmah is a typical example of a woman going through a transition into a world she was not used to or exposed to — from a simple life to one of power and excess. When women feel insecure with themselves, they seek means that they believe will make them more acceptable, loved and have a sense of belonging,” she said.