Leonardo DiCaprio Assisting U.S. 1MDB Scandal Investigation — DiCaprio to return any funds linked to Malaysian 1MDB fraud

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US justice department probes alleged money laundering that may have entangled actor’s film The Wolf of Wall Street and environmental foundation

AFP

WASHINGTON: Leonardo DiCaprio is aiding the investigation into a Malaysian embezzlement scam that involved his hit film about financial market fraud, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” according to his spokesperson on Tuesday (Oct 18).

The Hollywood star contacted the US Justice Department in July just after it filed a lawsuit to seize more than US$1 billion in allegedly ill-gotten assets tied to Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB, including rights to the film, DiCaprio’s spokesperson said.

Allegations of a vast international scheme of embezzlement and money-laundering involving billions of dollars of 1MDB money began to emerge two years ago, rocking Malaysia’s political establishment.

In a July lawsuit, the US Justice Department detailed how “Malaysian Official 1” – later identified by officials as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak – family members, and close associates diverted billions from the now-stricken fund.

Najib launched the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad in 2009 and closely oversaw it. Both he and 1MDB deny any wrongdoing.

The money allegedly siphoned from 1MDB was used to buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets around the world, and allegedly financed the production of “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

DiCaprio’s 2013 film about Wall Street corruption and greed was financed by Red Granite Pictures, co-founded by Riza Aziz, stepson of the Malaysian prime minister. DiCaprio reportedly was friends with Aziz associate Jho Low, also named in the lawsuit.

The Justice Department wants to seize royalties from the film, as well as real estate in Beverly Hills, New York and London, artworks by Monet and Van Gogh, and a Bombardier jet.

A Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation spokesperson said that after hearing about the lawsuit, DiCaprio’s had his representatives contact the Justice Department “to determine whether he or his foundation … ever received any gifts or charitable donations directly or indirectly related to these parties, and if so, to return those gifts or donations as soon as possible.”

The move to seize the funds, which is subject to what could be lengthy legal proceedings, emerges from a 2010 Justice Department anti-kleptocracy initiative intended to confiscate the ill-gotten gains of world leaders which pass through the US banking system.

The Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss NGO campaigning against corruption in Malaysia, said Tuesday it welcomed DiCaprio’s announcement but called on the actor to fully disclose his financial ties to Low, Aziz and Red Granite Pictures.

“DiCaprio’s public statement leaves key questions open,” said Lukas Straumann, the executive director of the Bruno Manser Fund. “How much money did Leonardo DiCaprio and his foundation get from Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) from Malaysia and why didn’t he conduct due diligence upon receiving these funds?”

The organisation also questioned whether DiCaprio would pay back the estimated US$25 million he received for his role in The Wolf of Wall Street.

“While we appreciate the statement and his cooperation with the Department of Justice, there is clearly more DiCaprio could do to end this disgraceful chapter in Hollywood history,” the statement said.

The Oscar-winning actor released a statement through his representatives on Tuesday saying he will return any gifts or donations connected to the Malaysian wealth fund, pending a fraud investigation of that fund by the US and other countries.

“Both Mr DiCaprio and [the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation] continue to be entirely supportive of all efforts to assure that justice is done in this matter,” the statement said. “Mr DiCaprio is grateful for the lead and instruction of the government on how to accomplish this.”

The US justice department says that at least US$3.5bn has been stolen from 1MDB by people close to Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.

Najib created the fund in 2009, shortly after he took office, to promote economic development projects in the Asian nation, but the fund accumulated billions in debts over the years.

The US justice department has initiated action to seize US$1.3bn it says was taken from the fund to buy assets in the US, including luxury properties in New York and California, a US$35m jet, art by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, andfinancing of The Wolf of Wall Street, according to federal government complaints filed in Los Angeles in July.

The government complaints also say that more than US$700m has landed in the accounts of “Malaysian Official 1”. They did not name the official, but appear to be referring to Najib.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.
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Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount Pictures

The US justice department complaints do not mention DiCaprio by name, but make an oblique reference to “Hollywood Actor 1”, who during his Golden Globe acceptance speech thanked “the entire production team” and singled out several people close to Najib and implicated in the scandal as “collaborators” on the film.

DiCaprio won the Golden Globe in 2014 for his Wolf of Wall Street performance. The US justice department complaints identify the film’s “collaborators” by name, including Najib’s stepson, Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, who co-founded movie production company Red Granite Pictures. Besides The Wolf of Wall Street, other films produced by Red Granite include 2015’s Daddy’s Home and 2014’s Dumb and Dumber To.

DiCaprio reportedly was friends with Aziz associate Jho Low, also named in the lawsuit.

Last week, a Swiss rainforest charity demanded that DiCaprio resign from his post as a United Nations messenger of peace if he does not disclose his financial ties to the Malaysian fund. But on Monday, a UN spokesman expressed continued support for the actor.

Stephane Dujarric said he understands that DiCaprio’s foundation is working with the relevant authorities in the US to resolve the issue.

“We continue to welcome his public work on behalf of climate change,” Dujarric said.

The Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss NGO campaigning against corruption in Malaysia, said it welcomed DiCaprio’s announcement but called on the actor to fully disclose his financial ties to Low, Aziz and Red Granite Pictures.

“DiCaprio’s public statement leaves key questions open,” said Lukas Straumann, the executive director of the Bruno Manser Fund. “How much money did Leonardo DiCaprio and his foundation get from politically exposed persons from Malaysia and why didn’t he conduct due diligence upon receiving these funds?”

The organization also questioned whether DiCaprio would pay back the estimated US$25 million he received for his role in The Wolf of Wall Street.

“While we appreciate the statement and his cooperation with the department of justice, there is clearly more DiCaprio could do to end this disgraceful chapter in Hollywood history,” the statement said.

Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing since allegations of massive fraud in the fund erupted last year. He remains firmly in political control by clamping down on critics and because of unwavering support of most ruling party members.

Democracy group Bersih plans to hold a mass street rally on 19 November to demand Najib’s immediate resignation to allow an independent investigation in Malaysia into the financial scandal.

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