U.S. Returns Seized 'Wolf of Wall Street' Millions to Malaysia

Paramount Pictures/Photofest
The Wolf of Wall Street

The first tranche of recovered funds from the multibillion-dollar scandal have been returned.

The 1MBD scandal, in which an estimated $4.5 billion was illegally siphoned out of Malaysia and used to finance extravagant lifestyles and purchase luxury properties in New York and L.A., artwork, private jets, yachts and even a major foray into Hollywood, appears to be reaching its own endgame. 

Malaysia's attorney general Tommy Thomas on Tuesday announced that the country had received the first installment of funds seized by the U.S. Department of Justice, whose kleptocracy department in 2016 filed the largest ever forfeiture complaint in U.S. history, citing $1 billion of assets (a figure that later rose substantially). 

The first tranche to Malaysia was for $57 million, which was forfeited from Red Granite Pictures, the production company behind the 2013 hit The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The company — which also co-produced Dumb and Dumber and Daddy's Home — was founded by Joey McFarland and Riza Aziz, the stepson of former Malaysia prime minister Najib Razak. The latter is now under trial in Malaysia for multiple counts of corruption relating to the 1MBD scandal, while Aziz has been interrogated by the anti-corruption police. Earlier this year, the Justice Department seized money from McFarland's bank account.

The $57 million is part of a $60 million settlement Red Granite recorded before the court of California, minus $3 million for expenses by the DoJ and FBI in investigating and seizing the funds. This figure was originally linked to a deposit of $64 million — traceable back to Malaysia's 1MDB sovereign wealth fund — that was received by Red Granite Pictures in the summer of 2012 and came from an account controlled by Aziz. The Wolf of Wall Street, which was first unveiled at a splashy launch party in Cannes the previous year, went into production two months later. 

According to the attorney general, the U.S. Justice Department is now in the process of remitting a further $139 million, the result of the sale of a stake in Manhattan's Park Lane Hotel owned by Jho Low, the mysterious Malaysian financier at the heart of the entire corruption scandal. Low, a former acquaintance of DiCaprio's who was thanked in the credits to The Wolf of Wall Street, is currently on the run from authorities and facing arrest.

Together with money recently recouped in Singapore, Malaysia has recovered $322 million since its investigation into the 1MDB began in May 2018, following the election that saw Razak fall from power.  

"1MDB asset recovery efforts across the globe are still ongoing, and Malaysia is optimistic of recovering further monies in the coming money," said Thomas.