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Lawyers representing Red Granite Pictures, the Malaysian financial backers of The Wolf of Wall Street, are threatening to sue a journalist who wrote an article suggesting government corruption may have been involved in the financing of the film.
Red Granite Pictures’ CEO is Riza Aziz, stepson of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. In an article published to her critical news blog, Sarawak Report, journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown suggested that Red Granite Picture’s resources and Aziz’s personal wealth may have come — at least in part — via illicit means. She also alleged that Aziz’s mother, Malaysia’s first lady, has been actively promoting the film in the Muslim-majority country, despite its R-rating and portrayals of sex, drugs and debauchery.
In a lengthy legal notice sent to Brown, which she first shared with BuzzFeed, Red Granite’s lawyers say they “write to object to the numerous false, misleading, defamatory, and malicious statements concerning RGP made in the article.”
The undersigning lawyer, a partner from Santa Monica-based Loeb & Loeb LLP, demands that Brown retract the piece and compel other outlets that picked up the story to pull their versions as well or else face litigation.
Brown, a sister-in-law to former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is one of the most prominent critics of the Malaysian Government. Although she was born in the former British colony, she has been banned from entering Malaysia since July 2013, due to her aggressive reporting.
Red Granite Pictures previously co-produced Friends With Kids (2011) and Out of the Furnace (2013). Next up on the company’s slate is Dumb and Dumber To.
Under the subheading, “Where Did the Money Come From?”, Brown’s original story says, “How Riza Aziz emerged as a major bankroller of Hollywood movies is of obvious interest. Could it be linked to his family position and circle of associates?”
Loeb & Loeb insist that the article is an “irresponsible, shoddy, malicious screed that was clearly concocted by a writer or writers (and/or editor or editors) intent on pressing a transparent, political agenda.”
The Sarawak Report article also quotes at length from an interview given by Aziz and RGP co-founder Joey McFarland to The Hollywood Reporter in May 2012, when Aziz said, “I will say that I have money invested in the company. It shows that I have skin in the game and am committed from a financial point of view. We also have a group of investors, mainly from the Middle East and Asia.”
McFarland also mentioned in the interview that RGP’s involvement in Wolf came about because of a personal friendship between Aziz and Leonardo DiCaprio.
In a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter, Brown said, in part: “Malaysia has one of the most controlled media in the world, so this powerful family are not used to inconvenient issues being aired, and I assume this is why they have reacted so aggressively.”
She added, “We would be delighted if he could publicly account for his sources of income and tell us how he got so apparently wealthy or who his wealthy backers are.”
The Sarawak Report story also questioned Aziz’s recent purchase of a multi-million-dollar penthouse apartment in New York City. According to reports in the local Malaysian press, those allegations led opposition lawmakers to demand that Riza be investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
The article has had a wide impact in the Malaysian media, with some outlets now calling on Prime Minister Razak to clarify the origins of his stepson’s wealth and financial involvement in Red Granite Pictures.
Loeb & Loeb could not be reached immediately for comment.
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