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The U.S. government is expanding its civil forfeiture case tied to assets allegedly diverted by high-level officials in Malaysia. On Thursday, the feds filed a new complaint aimed at seizing rights to the Red Granite Pictures-produced films Dumb and Dumber To and Daddy’s Home. The government is asserting that tens of millions of dollars used to produce these films are traceable to foreign corruption. Additionally, the feds are eyeing gifts given to a couple of celebrities, including high-priced paintings once enjoyed by Leonardo DiCaprio, now possibly in the government’s possession.
Last year, a similar complaint was made in California federal court with respect to The Wolf of Wall Street, the Oscar-nominated film directed by Martin Scorsese. The film was allegedly financed with assets from a fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), then diverted into shell companies. Some of the money is said to have gone to Red Granite, run by CEO Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak. Of $4.5 billion allegedly misappropriated, a portion went “to fund the co-conspirators’ lavish lifestyles, including purchases of artwork and jewelry, the acquisition of luxury real estate and luxury yachts, the payment of gambling expenses, and the hiring of musicians and celebrities to attend parties.”
In May, federal prosecutors told a California federal judge that the U.S. government was “actively discussing a potential settlement” with Red Granite Pictures. On Wednesday, court papers in the Wolf of Wall Street case were filed under seal.
Now come new forfeiture actions.
According to one complaint, a shell company called Aabar-BVI, incorporated in Abu Dhabi, maintained approximately $1.367 billion from the 1MDB fund. In 2012, Aabar-BVI sent three wires totaling $238 million to Aziz’s Red Granite bank account in Singapore. The feds next assert that dozens of transfers totaling more than $50 million were made to two accounts for Dumb and Dumber To maintained by Red Granite. Later, about $30 million in “funds traceable to diverted 1MDB proceeds” went to accounts for Daddy’s Home. Some additional money is said to have come from a $50 million loan from Morgan Stanley that was secured with distribution proceeds from Wolf of Wall Street.
The feds are also eyeing other assets, including a rare movie poster of Metropolis purchased by Aziz for $1.2 million in October 2012 that was described as hanging in Red Granite’s office. According to a source connected with Red Granite, the poster has already been turned over to authorities.
The government also wants artwork gifted to DiCaprio, including a Picasso painting purchased for $3.28 million, a photograph by Diane Arbus purchased for $750,000 and a Jean-Michel Basquiat collage purchased for $9,191,040. The latter two works are alleged to have been given to the actor by Jho Low, a Malaysian financier and close associate of Aziz. As for the Picasso painting, it allegedly came from Eric Tan, an associate of Low, accompanied by a handwritten note that read, “Dear Leonardo DiCaprio, Happy belated Birthday! This gift is for you.”
The Hollywood Reporter has also learned that DiCaprio has voluntarily surrendered to the government an Oscar awarded to Marlon Brando. He also has turned over the art referenced above, although an application for an arrest warrant for the property has been concurrently filed. The actor, however, has no plans at the moment to turn over the substantial sum of money he received for performing in Wolf of Wall Street. (Some analysis on that topic is here.)
Also wanted for the government’s collection of seized assets is jewelry purchased by Low, including a 11.72-carat heart-shaped diamond allegedly gifted to Miranda Kerr, a prominent Australian model who was once married to Orlando Bloom and is now married to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Red Granite comments, “As we have previously disclosed, Red Granite is actively engaged in discussions with the Justice Department aimed at resolving these civil cases and is fully cooperating. In the meantime, Red Granite remains an active production company, moving ahead to complete postproduction work on its next feature film while developing exciting new projects.”
Adds DiCaprio’s spokesperson: “Last July, upon hearing of the government’s civil action against certain parties involved in the making of The Wolf of Wall Street, Mr. DiCaprio’s representatives — working under his instruction — initiated contact with the Department of Justice. This effort was to determine if there were any gifts or charitable donations originating from the parties named in the civil complaint, and to offer the return of any such gifts or donations with the aid and instruction of the government. Prior to the government’s filing of the civil pleading today, Mr. DiCaprio initiated return of these items, which were received and accepted by him for the purpose of being included in an annual charity auction to benefit his eponymous foundation. He has also returned an Oscar originally won by Marlon Brando, which was given to Mr. DiCaprio as a set gift by Red Granite to thank him for his work on The Wolf of Wall Street. Mr. DiCaprio is grateful for the support of the government in this effort and continues to hope that justice is done in this matter.”
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