PETALING JAYA: In defending the nearly RM1bil worth of luxury items and cash at his residence which were seized by police, former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said they were gifts from foreign dignitaries.
He had told Malaysiakini in an exclusive interview that it was not illegal to accept valuable gifts.
Michelle Obama (pic) had herself received millions of dollars worth of gifts from the late Saudi ruler King Abdullah Abdulaziz Al Saud while her husband Barack Obama was US president, Najib told the independent news portal.
Except that this is not entirely true.
When US presidents or their spouses receive gifts from foreign dignitaries, they hand over these gifts to the US State Department.
The Department’s Protocol Gift Unit receives all diplomatic gifts on behalf of the White House and Department of State officials, maintaining records of these gifts.
“This includes all diplomatic gifts received by the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State and their spouses,” the US State Department says in a brief description on its website.
The records by the National Archives and Records Administration of these various gifts over the years are uploaded onto the website.
According to news reports, American officials must pay the Treasury a fair market value of any of the presents they may want to keep for personal use.
In 2016, the gifts that Barack Obama received ranged from a linen set worth US$560 from the Ambassador of Paraguay to a ceramic pot worth US$2,000 from a Japanese governor.
But the most expensive gift the former US president received that year was a sculpture of a Bedouin group, entitled “The Small Caravan,” from King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
It was painted in gold and silver and decorated with precious stones, mounted on green granite, and came with a silver tone letter opener with golden Falcon handle and silver tone Chopard pen. It was valued at US$56,720.
In 2009, Michelle Obama received a ruby and diamond jewellery set consisting of a pair of earrings, a ring, a bracelet, and a necklace worth US$132,000 from the then Saudi King Abdullah Abd al-Aziz Al Saud.
The set did not end up in her wardrobe or a box under her bed, but rather it went to the Foreign Archives.
There were many other gifts that the Obamas received during their time at the White House, but all of them were recorded and subsequently handed over to the Foreign Archives.
Perishables such as food though are “handled pursuant to US Secret Service policy” according to documents.
Interestingly though, the US State Department protocol gift unit has not yet published its records for 2017 and 2018, not since Donald J. Trump became president.
Trump had once called Najib his “favourite prime minister” during the latter’s visit to the United States in September, 2017.