ART IMITATES LIFE
Was Leo DiCaprio’s ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Paid for With Stolen Money?
The Oscar-winning actor’s charity and the production company behind Wolf of Wall Street have come under scrutiny for ties to a $3 billion embezzlement scandal.
When was the last time a celebrity scandal—not a body part—truly broke the internet? In the age of long lens paparazzi, 24/7 reality TV coverage and conscious uncoupling, we’ve been subsisting on cheap, disposable drama and scripted Bachelor breakups. Nobody thinks big anymore. Surprisingly, the man to finally bring some old school Hollywood glamour back to the celebrity scandal game may be none other than the founder of the pussy posse himself, Leonardo DiCaprio. Yes, it’s come to this.
In 2016, DiCaprio stuck it to malicious memers everywhere when he finally won an Academy Award. Having put himself through the physical and emotional ringer—i.e., growing an unflattering beard—for his critically acclaimed role in The Revenant, DiCaprio has found himself reduced to a bit part in an ongoing international saga. For anyone who’s unaware of the still-breaking Malaysian money laundering scandal (coming soon to a court near you), DiCaprio boasts a minor role as “Hollywood Actor 1.” According to filings from the 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.
It’s a story as old as time—Hollywood actor mistakenly bankrolls his movie about a financial criminal through stolen Malaysian money. 2013’s Wolf of Wall Street was a famously risky investment that almost didn’t make it to theaters. Luckily, financial aid arrived in the form of a mysterious production company called Red Granite Pictures, which contributed more than $100 million to DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s project. At the time, many joked that DiCaprio’s role as a Quaaludes-popping, philandering party boy was art imitating life, but nobody guessed that the entire crime film was vaguely criminal. Who knew that Wolf of Wall Street was so layered and nuanced?
As relayed by The Hollywood Reporter, investigators believe that much of Red Granite Pictures’ funding was diverted from production company 1MDB, which was set up seven years ago by the prime minister of Malaysia to spur local economic development. Allegedly, the company ciphered $155 million over 9,000 miles through a series of offshore shell companies. Red Granite Pictures was set up in 2010 by Riza Aziz, the Malaysian prime minister’s stepson, and Christopher McFarland, a Kentucky businessman. These two like-minded individuals were introduced through their mutual friend, a Malaysian party boy by the name of Jho Low. Low was a fixture on the celebrity club circuit, a position he cemented by sending 23 bottles of Cristal to Lindsay Lohan at 1OAK for her 23rd birthday. Naturally, this is where our blue-eyed “Hollywood Actor 1” enters the scene, summoned by the invocation of “Cristal,” “Lindsay Lohan,” and “1OAK.”
Among his roster of celebrity friends, which included Paris Hilton, Jamie Foxx, and Alicia Keys, Leonardo DiCaprio was Low’s No. 1 ride or die. Low and DiCaprio attended one another’s birthday parties; at Low’s 30th birthday bash in 2012, DiCaprio reportedly rapped onstage with Busta Rhymes. The drinking buddies also engaged in bromantic activities, like an $11 million gambling bender in Las Vegas. Low and the Red Granite Pictures principals even gifted DiCaprio with a $600,000 present: Marlon Brando’s Oscar from On the Waterfront. Because unlike these shady business dealings, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar’s thirst was scarily transparent. Of course, DiCaprio probably had no idea that all of this money probably came out of 1MDB, and that he has the pissed-off Malaysian populace to thank for his Academy Award.
DiCaprio thanked the Red Granite Pictures’ founders by name in his 2014 Golden Globes acceptance speech, hailing them as “collaborators.” Wolf of Wall Street went on to gross about $400 million, none of which contributed to Malaysian economic prosperity. Adding irony to injury, the R-rated film wasn’t even distributed in the Southeast Asian nation, which boasts strict morality laws.
But DiCaprio’s involvement gets even dicier. According to the DOJ, Low and McFarland diverted 1MDB funds to Leonardo DiCaprio’s philanthropic endeavors. Low even offered the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture to auction off for charity—unfortunately, Low wasn’t there to see if it sold for its $700,000 estimated value, having already fled to Taiwan in an attempt to elude international investigators. Because of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s status as a donor-advised fund (as opposed to a nonprofit), the foundation is not required to file public revenue disclosures. According to Inside Philanthropy, “It’s difficult to characterize the giving of the DiCaprio Foundation because its status… makes it impossible to look at its finances.” And CharityWatch’s Daniel Borochoff told The Hollywood Reporter, “[DiCaprio’s] able to fundraise with one because he’s such a huge international celebrity. If you were an unknown, it would be a lot harder because people would quickly start asking questions.”
Despite The Hollywood Reporter’s repeated efforts, DiCaprio and his charity have refused to answer questions regarding the foundation’s transparency and accountability. Despite the growing 1MDB scandal, the Foundation seems intent on business (sorry, charity) as usual. On the very same day that the Department of Justice filed their formal complaint regarding the over $3 billion scandal, DiCaprio threw his third annual LDF fundraiser at a vineyard in St. Tropez. The star-studded event featured billionaires, helicopters, whole sea bass, and all the other nouns you might use in a game of Leonardo DiCaprio Mad Libs. Bono, Lana Del Rey, and Mariah Carey were among the many Hollywood luminaries in attendance. Unfortunately for next year’s sea bass budget, charities are not off-limits in these kinds of asset-seizure cases.
This isn’t DiCaprio’s first brush with criminality by association. Stockbroker to the stars Dana Giacchetto counted the A-lister among his most valued clients—prior to his 2001 sentence for securities fraud. DiCaprio also palled around with Helly Nahmad, the infamous art dealer who served time for operating an illegal gambling business out of his Trump Tower lodgings. Despite DiCaprio’s close association with this new group of alleged conspirators, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be prosecuted for any wrongdoing. The actor, who earned over $25 million from The Wolf of Wall Street, has returned to his comfort zone: 24-year-old models and Tobey Maguire. Meanwhile, Red Granite Pictures is cooperating with inquiries, and is still functioning out of a Sunset Strip office right above DiCaprio’s own Appian Way. The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.