Dirty paycheck: DiCaprio still owes millions to the Malaysian people
Why didn't the DOJ tell DiCaprio to turn over his $25 million Wolf of Wall Street fee?
A money trail proves cash links between Leonardo DiCaprio, his Foundation and billions stolen from the Malaysian people—but the millionaire star hasn’t coughed up a single penny.
DiCaprio earned a reported $25 million for his part in the The Wolf of Wall Street, the largest upfront fee ever commanded in Hollywood. But despite the US Department of Justice ruling that the film was funded by money stolen from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, DiCaprio has not returned even a part of his outrageous fee—all whilst the DOJ scramble to return funds to the Malaysian people, who were defrauded of over $4.5 billion.
The notorious Hollywood hit that glamourises theft and fraud was produced with millions stolen from Malaysia’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a fund set up to spur local economic growth. The film was just part of a series of heists to funnel over billions of state money into private pockets. So far, only $1.1 billion has been recovered and repatriated to Malaysia, a sum that doesn’t even cover the $1.3 billion stolen from Malaysia’s pension fund.
“These cases involve billions of dollars that should have been used to help the people of Malaysia, but instead was used by a small number of individuals to fuel their astonishing greed,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown in 2017.
Journalist powerhouse, Clare Rewcastle Brown, exposed single-handedly how 1MDB became a bottomless pit for Malaysia’s former prime minister, Najib Razak, his stepson, Riza Aziz, and Aziz’s good friend, Jho Low. The stolen money was used to fund outrageous and lavish lifestyles that included private jets, yachts, private property around the world, an $11 million weekend in Las Vegas, Picasso originals, jewellery, a crystal piano, Hollywood films—and Hollywood friends.
Flush with cash, Low began partying with A-Listers in 2009, meeting DiCaprio in October. Low dated Miranda Kerr, cosied up to Paris Hilton, allegedly bought Kim Kardashian a Ferrari. Low then introduced DiCaprio to Aziz, who co-founded a film production company called Red Granite Pictures in 2010 with Joey McFarland. Red Granite Pictures went on to make The Wolf of Wall Street in 2012. Four years later, the US Department of Justice confirmed the film was funded with dirty money.
“Red Granite Pictures used more than $100 million involved in the theft from 1MDB to finance the award-winning 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street,” said Assistant Attorney General, Leslie Caldwell, in 2016. “This is a case where life imitated art.”
Strangely, the DOJ case filings published since report a money trail of only $61 million siphoned from 1MDB to accounts used to fund The Wolf of Wall Street. Stranger still, despite reporting that $48 million was paid from those same accounts to pay the trail for payroll and expenses, and a further $3.9 million paid to director Martin Scorsese’s film company, none of the film’s stars have been asked to return their fees.
Could this be the difference between “over $100 million” and $61 million?
DiCaprio’s reported $25 million upfront fee was not only the highest ever paid out, but also far exceeded his co-stars’ fees—Jonah Hill made a miserly $60,000 for his role in the film. DiCaprio personally thanked “collaborators” Low, Aziz and McFarland in his Golden Globes speech. Given the outrageous size of DiCaprio’s fee, paid for by “funds misappropriated from 1MDB proceeds”—and his close ties with the fraudsters who he personally thanked in his Golden Globes speech—why has he not been asked to return his fee?
DiCaprio is worth $260 million. Why has he not offered to return his dirty money? Or, better yet, considering the fact that some of the stolen money came from the illegal logging of Malaysia’s forests, why hasn’t the environmentalist donated it?
Despite a lot of press coverage in 2016 questioning the link between 1MDB and DiCaprio, who received numerous gifts from Low and Aziz, partied with Low during the $11 million weekend bender in Las Vegas, and whose Foundation allegedly received money siphoned from the 1MDB, nothing further has come out of the investigation. DiCaprio has since been downgraded to a key witness in the whole affair.
In a 2016 statement, representatives for DiCaprio said he was awaiting direction from the DOJ, and that he would return any “gifts and charitable donations” given to him or the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. So far, DiCaprio has stayed true to his word and returned the gifts—not cash. He secretly testified before a grand jury in 2019 to provide useful insight into Jho Low, the alleged mastermind who is hiding out in China. Prosecutors insist DiCaprio is not a target of their continued investigation.
This is yet another case of the star side-stepping blame. DiCaprio was appointed as United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change in 2014. Critics called for him to step down from his role, given his links to the 1MDB scandal. DiCaprio neither stepped down nor acknowledged the criticisms and remains in the role to this day. Unsurprising, given he was appointed the year after celebrating New Year’s Eve on two continents with Jho Low: they partied until 1am on a yacht in Sydney Harbour before chartering a private jet to Las Vegas, landing in time for midnight.
Clare Rewcastle Brown said on Episode 8 of the Platform Enterprise podcast:
“Leonardo DiCaprio appears to be the king of Hollywood and he doesn’t want this story bandied around. It seems to me everybody is kowtowing to Leo’s sensibilities about this. He would rather be promoted as the actor environmentalist who is seeking to save the planet than as someone who actually benefited from a bonanza of theft indirectly resulting from the corruption that was destroying the Borneo jungle. And it seems like most people in Hollywood would rather keep their careers and not upset Leo.”
Eyebrows were raised in 2012 when it was announced that Red Granite Pictures, a little-known studio, would produce The Wolf Of Wall Street, directed by Scorsese. The production company paid $60 million in September 2017 to settle a civil lawsuit that sought to seize assets allegedly bought with stolen money. The film grossed $392 million.
“Neither 1MDB nor the people of Malaysia ever saw a penny of profit from the film, or from any other investments made with money diverted,” said Caldwell in 2016. Red Granite deny all knowledge of stolen funds. The money trail, however, speaks for itself.
Between 2009 and 2011, under the pretense of investing in a joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi International, over $1 billion was directed from 1MDB to a Swiss bank account called Good Star Limited, which was beneficially owned by Low Taek Jho.
In 2012, 40% of the proceeds raised by 1MDB through two separate bond offerings arranged and underwritten by Goldman Sachs (who is now coughing up $5 billion in penalties for its role in the scandal). Immediately after receiving the proceeds of each of these bond issues, $1.367 billion was wired to a Swiss bank account belonging to a British Virgin Islands entity called Aabar Investments PJS Limited (“Aabar-BVI”).
Between April and September in 2012, $10,173,104 was transferred to the Red Granite Pictures Operating Account. Travelling through a series of Accounts, $9,015,191 was sent to a City National Bank account in the name of TWOWS LLC. TWOWS is an acronym for “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
Between June and November in 2012, “$238,000,000 in funds traceable to the diverted proceeds of the 2012 1MDB bond sales was sent from Aabar-BVI to Aziz’s Red Granite Pictures Account” in Singapore. Travelling through a series of accounts, $52,005,162 was deposited into the TWOWS Account.
The report goes on to state that the TWOWS Account “paid $48 million to a company that specialises in managing payroll and production expenses for the film industry”.
DiCaprio’s actor/producer $25 million fee far exceeded that of his co-stars. Margot Robbie received $347,000 for her role, and Jonah Hill just $60,000. This makes $48 million a realistic payroll total, especially considering Scorsese’s $3.9 million was paid separately.
Given the origin of this scandal—that is, the network of corrupt and powerful individuals that enabled and profited from 1MDB—it’s no stretch of the imagination to question whether deals were struck to save celebrity face. Even detailed investigations into the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 2016 which alleged that millions were donated in stolen funds, have since quieted. Red flags raised by multiple sources about the foundation’s opaque structure have also come to nothing.
The LDF is not a non-profit, but a Donor Advised Fund attached to the non-profit California Community Foundation. This means the LDF is not required to file itemised public disclosures about its own revenue, expenditures and disbursements. Both Congress and the IRS have investigated covert uses of DAFs that “appear to be established for the purpose of generating questionable charitable deductions, and providing impermissible economic benefits to donors and their families”, resulting in tightened restrictions.
The LDF claims to have raised $45 million during their annual gala on July 20, 2016, but is not obligated to file any reports or disclose any specifics. It was confirmed, however, that Low, who was on the run to Taiwan at this point, successfully donated a sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein: 1982's Brushstroke, valued at roughly $700,000. The sculpture has since been claimed by the DOJ.
Any money raised at this gala event, or any of the others where Low, Aziz, or their associates were present, has not been claimed.
1MDB is still $7.8 billion in debt, despite the billions repatriated by governments and coughed up by the likes of Goldman Sachs. $3.4 billion of the stolen money is still missing. Without seizing cash from wealthy “philanthropists” who benefited from their relationships with thieves and fraudsters, the total sum will likely never be recovered by those who need it.
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