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Five years after Red Granite threw one of the most spectacular — and expensive — launch parties Cannes has ever seen (Leonardo DiCaprio, a truckload of champagne, a Kanye West and Jamie Foxx “Gold Digger” duet, anyone?), the festival could well be the setting for a decidedly different chapter in the company’s troubled evolution.
While the banner — famed for backing DiCaprio’s hit passion-project The Wolf of Wall Street — would rather the focus was on its current slate of projects, most notably the Charlie Hunnam-starring Papillon remake it launched at this year’s market, news broke late Wednesday that turned attention elsewhere.
According to The Wall Street Journal, “at least $50 million” was allegedly diverted from the Malaysian investment fund 1MDB set up by Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak to purchase luxury properties for Riza Aziz, Granite’s co-founder and chairman (and Razak’s stepson), including an 11,000-square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills and a 7,700-square-foot duplex overlooking Central Park in New York.
The news is the latest development in a growing money-laundering scandal that threatens to engulf not just Aziz and Red Granite but topple the entire Malaysian government. Both of the property purchases are now being investigated by the FBI, which also is looking into an estimated $7 billion that allegedly disappeared from 1MDB coffers and funded, among other things, Aziz’s flashy entrance into Hollywood.
“First thing, this man has no money, he’s not a rich man,” former Malaysian prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad tells The Hollywood Reporter by phone from Kuala Lumpur. “He’s spending a huge sum of money to make these films, including The Wolf of Wall Street. So where is it coming from? We think it comes from 1MDB. It is stolen money.”
Red Granite and Aziz declined to comment on the latest allegations. They had previously maintained that there was nothing inappropriate about their business activities and had been cooperating fully with all inquiries.
According to Malaysian MP Tony Pua, a sitting member of the country’s parliament, the latest series of allegations are just the “confirmation of what we suspected” about the Red Granite head. “We’re now seeing a direct link to properties purchased by Riza Aziz with money sourced from 1MDB,” he says.
Pua, who has been a vocal critic of 1MDB and the PM’s involvement in a fund ostensibly set up to fuel economic development in Malaysia, now finds himself unable to leave the country and is himself being investigated — alongside many other detractors — with “sedition and activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy.”
Of the “unaccounted for” $7 billion, Pua says that the latest reports show that “$238 million was sent to Red Granite, of which approximately $100 million went to produce The Wolf of Wall Street.”
At Cannes, Red Granite is actively meeting with Hollywood dealmakers from the deck of Indulgence of Poole, a rented luxury yacht docked near the Palais. It’s unclear if any of the new allegations against Aziz are impacting Red Granite or its international sales side, led by Danny Dimbort and Christian Mecuri.
And then there’s DiCaprio, who is rumored to be attending the festival and throwing a private party, something that was denied by his publicist. The actor hasn’t yet publicly spoken about the growing Red Granite controversy and the funding behind his second most successful film (after Titanic), which earned him upwards of $25 million.
“Leonardo perhaps took part in the film without knowing the source of these funds,” says Pua. “But now in hindsight, with the information that is publicly available, he can lead by example and make a stand against international money laundering.”
Red Granite gave the THR this statement in response to the above article:
“Red Granite has received hundreds of millions of dollars in financings over the last six years from a variety of sources, including top-tier U.S. commercial and investment banks. During this time, Red Granite’s films have generated close to $1 billion in worldwide box office receipts. To its knowledge, none of the funding received by Red Granite was in any way irregular or illegitimate. Red Granite is cooperating fully with all inquiries and is confident that when the facts come out, it will be clear that neither Riza Aziz nor Red Granite has done anything wrong. In the meantime, Mr. Aziz and Red Granite will continue moving forward with exciting new projects.”
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