Could 'Papillon' Remake Be the Next Casualty of the Red Granite Scandal?

Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland - Getty - H 2016
Credit: Getty / Michael Loccisano

With the feds now targeting two other projects — 'Dumb and Dumber To' and 'Daddy's Home' — the fate of the Charlie Hunnam starrer remains unclear.

When the U.S. Department of Justice announced last July it was looking to seize the rights to The Wolf of Wall Street — part of a record-breaking $1 billion forfeiture claim of assets allegedly bought with money laundered from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund called called 1MDB — it was a rather unheard-of situation for Hollywood. A Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated film, starring arguably the biggest actor on the planet and made by one of its most celebrated directors, which had grossed nearly $400 million, was being chased by the Feds.

But less than a year on, while the case against Wolf of Wall Street continues, two other sizeable Hollywood films have now been brought into the authority’s growing anti-kleptocracy case, its largest in history.

Among a host of new assets — added June 15 and bringing the total value facing seizure to more than $1.6 billion — are the rights to Dumb and Dumber To and Daddy’s Home held by Red Granite Pictures, the Wolf of Wall Street production company co-founded by Riza Aziz, stepson of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, and Joey McFarland.

According to the DOJ, “tens of millions of dollars in funds diverted from 1MDB” were used to make Dumb and Dumber To, which Red Granite came on board to produce and fully finance in 2013, reportedly for around $40 million. The Justice Department asserts that the money is traceable to an initial tranche of $238 million in wire transfers made into Red Granite accounts held by Aziz and also used to fund Wolf of Wall Street, with around $21.5 million sent into the account of the Dumb and Dumber To special purpose vehicle. Released in 2014 and reuniting Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, Dumb and Dumber To would earn $170 million globally.

With Daddy’s Home, a co-production with Paramount, the DOJ claims that, between November 2014 and June 2015, “over $30,000,000 in funds traceable to diverted 1MDB proceeds” was funneled into the film’s accounts. Released in 2015 and starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, Daddy’s Home earned just south of $243 million globally.

The additions leave Red Granite facing the seizure of its three highest-profile and highest-grossing films (The Wolf of Wall Street, Dumb and Dumber To and Daddy’s Home combined raked in just shy of $805 million worldwide), and all from a company that only burst onto the scene — via a rather glitzy Cannes launch party, no less — in 2011.

Industry eyes will no doubt be turning to the company’s only remaining film in production, the big-budget remake of the 1973 prison-escape classic Papillon. The film stars Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in the roles made famous by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, respectively, with Danish helmer Michael Noer in the director’s chair.

With shooting having wrapped in December after several months of filming in Eastern Europe, Papillon is now in postproduction. Sources have said they're very impressed with footage seen so far, but tell The Hollywood Reporter that while some international territories have acquired the film (it was introduced to buyers in Cannes last year by Red Granite’s now-defunct sales arm Red Granite International), it is still awaiting a domestic distributor, with the finished product being shown to potential purchasers this summer.

According to Red Granite, in a statement provided to THR for this article, it "remains an active production company, moving ahead to complete postproduction work on its next feature film while developing exciting new projects."

But the question remains: Will the DOJ broaden its filings again to allege that diverted 1MDB funds were also transferred into the Papillon accounts? (When contacted by THR, a DOJ representative declined to comment.) 

Speaking to THR from Cannes last year, Roger Corbi and Yan Fischer-Romanovsky, the two Barcelona-based producers who first brought the remake to Red Granite (and before the corruption scandal had first been exposed), said they’d been offered assurances by the production company’s lawyers that the film was safe.

However, Corbi freely admitted at the time that they “wouldn’t like to be in this situation,” and the latest developments enveloping two more Red Granite titles aren’t likely to have helped settle any concerns. Corbi and Fischer-Romanovsky did not respond to THR’s request to speak for this article.

In Berlin in February while promoting The Lost City of Z, Hunnam told THR that he had been aware of the scandal surrounding Red Granite before he signed on for the film. "It was something I wanted to understand a little better before committing," he said. "Once I was confident that there was nothing illicit involved in the financing of [Papillon], I felt it was none of my business what they had or hadn’t done in the past."

In a statement last year, Red Granite said that, to its knowledge, none of the funding it had received was “in any way irregular or illegitimate,” adding that it had received “hundreds of millions of dollars in financing over the last six years from a variety of sources, including top-tier U.S. commercial and investment banks.” It concluded that it was “confident that when the facts come out, it will be clear that neither Riza Aziz nor Red Granite has done anything wrong.”

Although The Wolf of Wall Street earned almost $400 million, much of the success for Red Granite’s biggest hit came internationally, where most of the territories had been presold. Sources therefore have indicated that the film wasn’t quite the instant profit-making machine for the company that it might first appear to be, suggesting that was why Red Granite required significant further investments to fund its subsequent slate, backing up DOJ allegations that it dipped into 1MDB funds again.

But in financing Daddy’s Home, the DOJ asserts that proceeds from the distribution of Dumb and Dumber To were used, transferred between accounts at City National Bank before being wired to Paramount. The rest, it claims, came from a loan from Morgan Stanley, which was itself raised thanks to a previous loan with Union Bank that had been “secured with distribution proceeds owed to Red Granite Pictures from its production of The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Effectively, the DOJ appears to now be going after an asset not directly linked to 1MDB funds, but something financed by the profits made from assets that are.

Were the DOJ to find that any of Papillon’s funding originated from revenues of Wolf of Wall Street, Dumb and Dumber To or Daddy’s Home, the film could also appear to qualify for inclusion in the record-breaking forfeiture claim.

While the DOJ’s chasing of The Wolf of Wall Street may have been eye-opening, its potential seizure of a major film that is still unfinished and still seeking a domestic distributor and release date would surely be another major first.

As one source told THR, “There’s probably a lot being spent on lawyers rights now.”