'Wolf of Wall Street,' 1MDB Corruption Trial Begins in Malaysia

Najib Razak
Ore Huiying / Getty

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak has gone on trial for his role in a scandal that saw billions of stolen funds used to finance luxury properties and Hollywood films.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has gone on trial for his part in the 1MDB financial scandal, thought to be among the biggest corruption scandals the world has ever seen. 

The trial marks the first major court case linked to the notorious 1MDB affair, which saw more than $4 billion supposedly destined for Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund instead allegedly diverted into private bank accounts and used to fund lavish lifestyles, properties in New York and Los Angeles, a super-yacht and the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring 2013 Hollywood hit The Wolf of Wall Street. 

Razak established 1MDB and oversaw its operation. His stepson Riza Aziz produced The Wolf of Wall Street through his Red Granite production company, which is alleged by the Justice Department to have received $64 million of 1MDB funds to finance the film. Last year the company agreed to pay back $60 million to the DoJ to settle the case and Aziz spent several days being interrogated in Malaysia. Earlier this year, the DoJ — as part of the largest action brought by its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative — targeted tens of millions of dollars held in accounts linked to Red Granite co-founder and Wolf of Wall Street producer Joey McFarland. 

Najib Razak, who lost power in a dramatic election in 2018, faces seven charges accusing him of pocketing $681 million from 1MDB coffers. Razak has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The former first lady Rosmah Mansour also faces corruption charges. 

Central to the 1MDB scandal and also targeted by the investigation is the Malaysian businessman known as Jho Low, who had close links with both Najib and Aziz. 

Low, who is alleged to have personally received hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from 1MDB and now faces criminal charges brought by the U.S. government, become close friends with DiCaprio, buying a property on the same street in the Hollywood Hills, and is believed to have been central to ensuring The Wolf of Wall Street was produced by Red Granite. He received a "special thanks" in the film's credits. 

However, Low has evaded capture and is currently thought to be hiding in China. Last year, his super-yacht the Equanimity — again alleged to have been bought via laundered 1MDB money — was seized. On April 3, the same day Razak's trial began, the boat was reportedly sold by the Malaysian government to casino giant Genting for $126 million, half its original price.