Leonardo DiCaprio's LACMA Fundraising Dragged Into Malaysia Scandal
As the DOJ continues its embezzlement probe into 'Wolf of Wall Street’ producer Riza Aziz, the actor's Art + Film Gala as well as gifts — including $2.1 million spent on rare movie posters — come under scrutiny.
Aside from preserving the environment, Leonardo DiCaprio has publicly associated himself with no philanthropic cause more than the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Through the star-studded annual Art+Film Gala he's co-chaired since its launch in 2010, DiCaprio, 41, has helped raise more than $18 million for exhibitions, acquisitions and programming.
Yet the Oscar winner's efforts appear to have resulted in LACMA benefiting from potentially stolen money thanks to his relationship with Red Granite Pictures — the primary backer of The Wolf of Wall Street — whose principals are key figures in a $3 billion Malaysian embezzlement scandal involving public funds. Red Granite co-founder Riza Aziz is at the center of a Department of Justice asset-seizure investigation that became public in July, after which THR reported the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation was a beneficiary of possibly stolen money. (On Oct. 18, the foundation issued a statement saying it was working with the DOJ to resolve the matter.)
Aziz, stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (implicated in the saga), and his associates were involved in the purchase and auction for LDF's benefit of blue-chip art by Ed Ruscha, Mark Ryden and Roy Lichtenstein. During the same period, Aziz underwrote LACMA's "Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s" alongside DiCaprio's foundation. Last year, museum director Michael Govan said Aziz had financed what LACMA later would term "a major gift of nine Russian avant-garde film posters" from the same decade, heralding the move as part of a larger plan by Aziz and memorabilia dealer Ralph DeLuca to support the institution. (DeLuca sourced Marlon Brando's On the Waterfront Oscar, valued at about $600,000, which Red Granite gifted DiCaprio in 2012.)
In April, Aziz ponied up $2.1 million more to purchase 880 rare movie posters for LACMA. The museum's prints department head told an art market publication that Aziz has been pivotal in building its graphic design collection.
Aziz, DeLuca and Red Granite's Joey McFarland attended the Art+Film Gala in 2015, but it's unclear whether they will be at this year's Oct. 29 soiree. The Red Granite pair, DeLuca and DiCaprio, whose connection to the scandal has prompted one environmental charity to ask him to step down from his U.N. climate change ambassador role, did not return requests for comment.
Nonprofits are not off-limits in asset-seizure cases. In 2014, the Motion Picture & Television Fund received at least $25,000 from purported Red Granite financier Jho Low. A rep says it "would cooperate with any investigation by the DOJ." For its part, LACMA tells THR it "would fully cooperate" with authorities "should we receive any requests to do so."
This story first appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.