'Wolf of Wall Street' Malaysian Money Laundering Scandal Gets Doc Treatment (Exclusive)
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mike Lerner is producing 'The Master and His Wolf,' which he hopes will join the dots between 'Wolf of Wall Street' producers Red Granite Pictures and a billion-dollar scandal now threatening to bring down the Malaysian government.
The unfolding scandal surrounding the financing of The Wolf of Wall Street — which allegedly links corruption and money laundering at the highest levels of the Malaysian government to the company behind the hit film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a flamboyant criminal stockbroker — is getting the documentary treatment.
Mike Lerner, the Oscar-nominated British producer behind Hell and Back Again, The Square and Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, is producing the doc, which purports to connect the dots between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, a sovereign wealth fund set up to spur economic development, notorious celebrity-strewn parties in Cannes and Las Vegas, upstart Los Angeles banner Red Granite Pictures (co-founded by Razak’s stepson Riza Aziz) and the $100 million it found to finance Wolf of Wall Street in 2012.
The story could also drag in DiCaprio, who was paid $25 million up front to star in Martin Scorsese's five-time Academy Award nominee.
The Master and His Wolf (currently a working title) is being produced through Lerner’s London-based Roast Beef Productions banner and has already completed its filming in Malaysia, interviewing many of those who, against an aggressive clampdown on free speech, called for the parliamentary inquiry into the state fund 1MDB and reports that more than $1 billion found its way into Razak's personal accounts.
The doc's producers, who began their investigations in 2015, are now extending the shoot to the U.S., Switzerland, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, where probes into 1MDB’s finances have since been opened. Last year, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice began examining Goldman Sachs’ role in the affair. In February, according to Bloomberg, U.S. investigators subpoenaed the bank's recently departed partner who handled deals for the fund.
"In The Master and His Wolf, we have a gripping story with a cast of fantastical characters, movie stars, prime ministers and a system of money laundering, with direct links between Malaysia via Saudi and Abu Dhabi companies which goes right to the heart of Hollywood’s elite,” Lerner told The Hollywood Reporter.
Among the fantastical characters the filmmakers are hoping to speak to is Jho Low, the flamboyant Malaysian financier famed for throwing a string of celebrity and champagne-soaked million-dollar parties in Las Vegas and the man who allegedly connected Red Granite's Aziz — with whom Low is believed to have had a close relationship — and DiCaprio, who had been trying to finance Wolf of Wall Street for six years before the company came on board.
Low, who received a "special thanks" in the film’s credits, has been missing since the inquiry opened into his dealings with 1MDB and is reported to be in Taiwan (one of the few countries that doesn’t have extradition arrangements with the U.S. or Malaysia).
Lerner’s Roast Beef has a considerable track record in backing films that dive right into the heart of contentious and contemporary subject matters.
To Hell and Back Again, directed by war photographer-turned-filmmaker Danfung Dennis, picked up two Sundance awards and an Academy Award nomination in 2011 for chronicling the emotional and difficult transition of a badly injured U.S marine from the battlefield of Afghanistan back to civilian life. Two years later, another Oscar nomination — alongside three Emmys and the IDA's best feature award — went to The Square, Jehane Noujaim's Netflix doc chronicling Egypt's turbulent recent history as told through the eyes of those on the streets during the deadly uprisings in 2011 and 2013. And Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, co-directed by Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, told the story of the Russian feminist protest rock band amid their controversial trial and conviction in 2012, winning a Sundance special jury award.
It was revealed last year that Roast Beef was working with Noujaim on a doc lifting the lid on the 2014 cyberattack that resulted in Sony's Amy Pascal stepping down.
Given its development at a time when U.S. law enforcers are potentially closing in, Master and His Wolf may well offer a behind-the-scenes examination of an event that could have a seismic impact from Asia to Hollywood.
“Because of this historically massive corruption, the Malaysian government is on the brink of disaster while two suspicious murders with alleged links to the fraud remain shrouded in secrecy," added Lerner. "And all for what? Greed, celebrity obsession and the ambition to stand on a red carpet. Stories don't get much bigger."
Red Granite has maintained that there is nothing inappropriate about any of the business activities of Red Granite Pictures or Riza Aziz, and that the company is responding to all inquiries and cooperating fully.
April 13, 9.30 a.m. Updated with response from Red Granite.