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In an ongoing case of life imitating art, Malaysian prosecutors on Friday charged Riza Aziz, co-founder of the Hollywood production company behind The Wolf of Wall Street, with five counts of money laundering.
Aziz pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is alleged to have received $248 million in illicit money from 1Malaysia Development Bhd, or 1MDB, the state investment fund established by his stepfather, disgraced former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak. Each of the five charges against him are punishable with a five-year prison term and a fine of 5 million Malaysian ringgit ($1.2 million).
Prosecutors alleged that the funds were used to purchase luxury real estate for Aziz in Los Angeles, New York and London, as well as to finance the brief foray of his company, Red Granite Pictures, as a high-flying Hollywood production banner. U.S. investigators have already shown in various lawsuits that the two biggest films backed by Red Granite, Wolf of Wall Street and Dumb and Dumber To, were financed with money stolen from 1MDB. Red Granite has paid the U.S. government $60 million to settle claims related to the scandal.
The proceedings against Aziz follow a flurry of charges against Razak and his inner circle. The former prime minister and his wife, Aziz’s mother Rosmah Mansor, are both facing dozens of money laundering and corruption charges. Meanwhile, Jho Low, Aziz’s friend and the alleged mastermind of the 1MDB scandal, is wanted by authorities in Malaysia, the U.S. and Singapore on various charges. Suspected to be hiding out in China, he remains a fugitive at large. The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that more than $4.5 billion was diverted from 1MDB by Razak, Low and their conspirators in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — making the case one of the biggest financial crimes ever.
Aziz was questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission last July, but it was unclear whether he would formally be charged for his role in the scandal. That question was answered on Thursday, when the commission arrested him at noon local time. He was released on bail and ordered to return Friday morning to face his charges.
Aziz arrived at a Kuala Lumpur court accompanied by an eight-person legal defense team. As each of his charges were called out by the judge, Aziz reportedly replied, quietly, “Understand. Not guilty. Claim trial.”
The judge set bail at RM1 million ($240,000), and ordered Aziz’s passport surrendered to the court. Aziz’s lawyers asked for the bail to be payable in two installments, but the judge denied the request. The entire proceedings lasted just 20 minutes.
Aziz’s trial date is set for Aug. 9.
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