AN international human rights NGO has called on Oscar-winning actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio to return funds that his foundation allegedly received from individuals and companies linked to a Malaysian state-owned company embroiled in a multi-billion dollar graft scandal.
The funds allegedly received by DiCaprio had prompted the Swiss NGO Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) to send a personal letter urging the Hollywood star to reveal the source of the money received.
The development follows the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent move to seek the forfeiture of more than US$1 billion in assets allegedly bought with money misappropriated from the Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The NGO also called on DiCaprio to restitute to Malaysia all donations, loans, salaries and other funds received from Riza Aziz, stepson of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, his associates Low Taek Jho (“Jho Low”) and Tan Kim Loong.
DiCaprio was linked to the individuals through his acting role in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ which was funded by Riza Aziz’ film production company, Red Granite Pictures.
“We are deeply disturbed that Leonardo DiCaprio and his foundation accepted assets that originate from the proceeds of corruption in Malaysia.
“This is a disgrace and in total contradiction with the declared aims of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation”, said Lukas Straumann, BMF director.
“We call on DiCaprio to apologize and pay back all this dirty money to the Malaysian people.”
Jho Low had reportedly channeled some US$3 million to DiCaprio’s foundation via the purchase of marked-up bottles of champagne at the actor’s birthday party in 2013, the NGO pointed out.
Apart from film rights to ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, artwork from Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh; a US$250 million investment in Parklane Hotel, New York; a US$176 million EMI Music investment; and US$100 million worth of real estate in the U.S. and U.K. are said to be among the assets that the US justice department is seeking to seize.
1MDB is wholly owned by the Malaysian Finance Ministry. Malaysian Prime Minister and Finance Minister Najib oversees the state fund which has dogged his leadership lately.
More than $3.5 billion in funds belonging to 1MDB was allegedly misappropriated by high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates.
In mid-August, a Malaysian lawyer who was former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s political secretary filed a U.S. class action suit against Red Granite, Riza and Jho Low.
According to Free Malaysia Today, the suit alleges that more than US$150 million of 1MDB money was believed to have been siphoned into the Red Granite venture.
Among other things, the suit also mentions a lavish birthday party held for DiCaprio in 2013, which allegedly raked up a multi-million dollar bill that was mostly spent on bottles of champagne costing US$25,000 a piece.