Leonardo DiCaprio’s third annual fundraising auction gala was so successful that it raised a mind-boggling US$45 million. Held on July 20 this year at the St. Tropez party, the event was such a big deal that it had attracted more celebrities than some awards shows. There were tons of booze, billionaires and babes at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation charity show.
Tickets started at US$11,778 (£9,054; RM47,193) a pop but 500 partygoers snapped up all of them. Amongst those were Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, supermodels Naomi Campbell and A-listers such as Bono, Mariah Carey, Charlize Theron, Tobey Maguire, Robert De Niro, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper, Penelope Cruz and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Earlier that same day, however, U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed lawsuits to seize assets that it said were the result of US$3.5 billion that was misappropriated from 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad), a fund set up by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak himself in 2009.
Among the assets the Government of the United States was seeking are the rights to the 2013 “Wolf of Wall Street” film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. While there are 32 references in the lawsuits to “Malaysian Official 1″, a description that fits no one else but Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak himself, “Hollywood Actor 1” is mentioned twice – referring to DiCaprio.
Notably absent at this year’s Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation fund raising party was 35-year-old Jho Low (actual name: Low Taek Jho), the bespectacled Malaysian businessman and party boy at the center of the 1MDB scandal who, at least as early as 2010, became a regular drinking buddy of DiCaprio’s.
Besides rubbing shoulders with celebrity friend Paris Hilton, Jho Low was also notorious for stunts like sending 23 bottles of Cristal to Lindsay Lohan for her 23rd birthday at the club 1OAK in Las Vegas in 2009. Jho Low is alleged to have used roughly US$1 billion in 1MDB funds for a personal shopping spree, including purchasing a US$39 million Hollywood Hills mansion a few doors down from DiCaprio.
But it was Riza Aziz, PM Najib Razak’s stepson, who was instrumental in linking both Jho Low and DiCaprio. Later, Jho Low introduced Riza Aziz to Joey McFarland, previously Paris Hilton’s party booker, and together they set up Red Granite Pictures. Eventually, Red Granite pumped more than US$100 million to DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s project – Wolf of Wall Street.
The U.S.-DOJ complaint alleges, however, that the financing for the film came from a US$238 million pot of money siphoned from the 1MDB fund. Allegedly, Red Granite Pictures laundered US$155 million over 9,000 miles through a series of offshore shell companies. Jho Low was actually credited at the end of Hollywood blockbuster “Wolf of Wall Street”.
Jho Low and Leonardo DiCaprio were so closed that they attended one another’s birthday parties. The drinking buddies also engaged in bromantic activities, like an US$11 million gambling spree in Las Vegas. Jho Low and the Red Granite Pictures top executives even gifted DiCaprio with a US$600,000 present – Marlon Brando’s Oscar from “On the Waterfront.”
But DiCaprio’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal gets even juicier. At the “Hollywood Actor 1” birthday party in 2013, Jho Low and McFarland were among those who reportedly helped raise more than US$3 million for Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation by buying marked-up bottles of champagne. But “stolen money” channelled to DiCaprio’s charity didn’t stop there.
The U.S.-DOJ also alleges that as early as 2013, money siphoned from 1MDB were used by Jho Low to purchase a pair of artworks (for a total of US$1.1 million) by Ed Ruscha and Mark Ryden at a Christie’s auction benefiting Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Last year, Jho Low offered the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation a sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein – 1982’s Brushstroke – valued at roughly US$700,000.
Here’s the problem: rather than as a traditional non-profit organization, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation was set up “NOT” as a non-profit but instead as a “donor-advised fund” attached to the California Community Foundation (which is a non-profit). Hence, the charity is not required to file itemized public disclosures about its own revenue, expenditures and disbursements.
However, now that 1MDB has become the U.S. Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative’s “largest single action” ever, the “Wolf of Wall Street” star is inextricably linked to a set of alleged criminal masterminds. In short, DiCaprio’s charity is alleged to have received gifts and donations directly from funds embezzled from 1MDB.
Due to the nature of Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, there’s close to zero transparency and accountability. The charity could be involved in money laundering by virtue of DiCaprio’s close relationships with Jho Low. The Justice Department would not comment but the U.S. authorities may try to recoup 1MDB assets donated to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
No matter how DiCaprio’s charity foundation tries to be structured in order to be as secretive as possible about its funding, such charities are “not immune” in asset-seizure under U.S. Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. It’s also unclear if Leonardo DiCaprio knew that donations to his charity originated from stolen money of 1MDB, but chose to accept them anyway.
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