Bradley Hope- The Wall Street Journal (19 October 2016)
Representatives of Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio contacted the Justice Department in July immediately after the government alleged some money embezzled from a Malaysian government fund financed his film The Wolf of Wall Street, his spokesman said on Tuesday.
The comments are the first from DiCaprio’s camp since the Justice Department filed civil forfeiture suits against luxury real estate, artwork and other assets purchased with allegedly stolen funds from 1Malaysia Development by a cast of characters including Malaysian financier Jho Low, who was a friend of DiCaprio’s.
They also come in the wake of protests from Switzerland’s Bruno Manser Fund, a rainforest charity, which called earlier this month for DiCaprio to explain his ties to the alleged fraud or step down from his position as a United Nations “Messenger of Peace for Climate Change”.
DiCaprio’s spokesman said the star was seeking to determine whether he or his charitable foundation had “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”.
“Both DiCaprio and LDF (Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation) continue to be entirely supportive of all efforts to assure that justice is done in this matter,” the spokesman said. “DiCaprio is grateful for the lead and instruction of the government on how to accomplish this.”
DiCaprio has been tangled in the 1MDB affair because of his association with Mr Low and others connected to the film, including Riza Aziz, co-founder of Red Granite Pictures and stepson of the Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak.
DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese were interested in making The Wolf of Wall Street for years before Red Granite agreed to help invest in the risky R-rated project. DiCaprio’s relationship with Mr Low and Mr Aziz grew from there.
Mr Aziz and Red Granite have denied any wrongdoing and said they believed the funding they received was from a legitimate business partner in the Middle East. Mr Najib has denied wrongdoing and been cleared of any crime by the Malaysian Attorney General. Mr Low and his representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment and haven’t publicly commented on the allegations.
The Justice Department’s complaints refer to “Hollywood Actor 1,” who is DiCaprio, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
On July 15, 2012 — a few months before The Wolf of Wall Street began filming — Mr Low withdrew $US1.15 million at the Venetian casino in Las Vegas and gambled with the Hollywood actor, the complaint says.
Red Granite’s office is also in the same building as DiCaprio’s Appian Way production company, and the actor and Red Granite executives were spotted together at parties across town.
In late 2012, Mr Low and Aziz, and others connected to the film, gave DiCaprio a unique birthday present: the Oscar statuette presented to Marlon Brando in 1955 for best actor in On the Waterfront. The statuette had been acquired for around $US600,000 through a New Jersey memorabilia dealer, according to sources.
The men also spent time together and with others on the world’s fifth-largest yacht during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and were part of a New Year’s celebration in 2012 that involved a party in Australia followed by a ride on a chartered 747 to Las Vegas to do the countdown a second time, the people said.
When the actor hosted a charity sale at auction house Christie’s to support environmental causes in 2013, Mr Low allegedly used 1MDB funds to purchase two pieces of art by Mark Ryden and Ed Ruscha for a total of about $US1.08 million, according to the Justice Department complaint.
Mr Low also bought a home in the high-end Bird Streets area of Los Angeles very close to DiCaprio’s home in the area.
While Mr DiCaprio and Mr Low were friends in the past, “they are no longer in contact and haven’t spoken in a long time,” according to a person close to DiCaprio.