SWITZERLAND-based rainforest charity Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) has demanded that Hollywood A-list actor Leonardo DiCaprio resign as UN Messenger of Peace for climate change over his refusal to come clean on his alleged links to those embroiled in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal.
In a statement after a press conference in London on Friday, the group repeated its charge that the Oscar-winning actor may have benefited from funds allegedly siphoned from the troubled investment fund founded by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak.
According to BMF, the embezzled funds were thought to have flown into DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way Productions and into the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
During the media conference attended by civil society activists from Malaysia, the UK and Switzerland, DiCaprio was also told to publicly disown Riza Aziz and his associate Low Taek Jho, two individuals instrumental in the production of the film “The Wolf of Wall Street”. The actor was also urged to pay back to Malaysia all the allegedly dubious funds he had accepted from Riza and Low.
Riza Aziz is Najib’s stepson while Low, also known as Jho Low, is alleged to be a close friend of the prime minister’s flamboyant wife Rosmah Mansor.
“Leonardo DiCaprio has consistently refused to explain his close personal and financial ties with key persons of the Malaysian 1MDB scandal,” said BMF director Lukas Straumann.
“This is unacceptable. If DiCaprio fails to distance himself from Malaysian corruption, he should resign as UN Messenger of Peace for climate change. We can’t save the environment if we fail to stop corruption.”
BMF had last week invited DiCaprio to attend the press conference and to debate corruption in Malaysia with local activists. It is believed, however, that the actor did not respond to the invitation.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), which recently filed a lawsuit in the case, Riza and Low, through the former’s firm Red Granite Pictures, financed the production of the film in 2012 allegedly with US$61 million embezzled from 1MDB. The film was co-produced by DiCaprio’s Appian Way Productions and Martin Scorsese’s Sikelia Productions.
BMF said it was estimated that DiCaprio alone was paid US$25 million for his role as Jordan Belfort in the film, a role that earned him the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
The Hollywood Reporter recently disclosed that the actor’s foundation – the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation – had benefitted from over US$2 million in cash and kind donations by Low since 2013. BMF noted from the report that Low last year donated a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture to the foundation, which was auctioned at a fundraising Gala in St. Tropez.
DiCaprio has also been accused of keeping in his possession a stolen Oscar statuette belonging to the late Marlon Brando. The award was allegedly given to him as a gift for his 38th birthday by his friends from Red Granite Pictures.
“All embezzled Malaysian public funds that have been sent overseas need to be returned to the country.
“Leonardo DiCaprio would be in the best position to do that and pay back the millions he received from Jho Low and Riza Aziz. The Malaysian taxpayers can’t be cheated,” Sudhagaran Stanley of the Malaysian Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) said.
Clare Rewcastle Brown, the founder of whistleblower site Sarawak Report, also urged for tighter banking rules to ensure political leaders would not be able to abuse offshore havens to launder stolen assets and abuse taxpayers monies.
She added that she was shocked by how willingly global banks had been to cooperate with those embroiled in the 1MDB scandal. Sarawak Report’s exposes on the controversy, along with several others by both international and local media outlets like Malaysia’s The Edge and U.S.-based Wall Street Journal (WSJ), were what triggered the ongoing multi-agency probe on the firm.
In Singapore, two Swiss banks have been shuttered over the scandal.
Local investigators in Malaysia have cleared Najib of any wrongdoing in the matter. 1MDB was created in 2009 by Najib to promote economic development projects.