LEONARDO DICAPRIO has voluntarily surrendered an Oscar and he could lose his $33 million ($US25 million) salary from the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street in a fraud scandal.
The Academy Award, which was won by Marlon Brando for the 1954 classic film On The Waterfront, was given to DiCaprio as a 38th birthday gift by Red Granite Films co-founders Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and Joey MacFarland.
Red Granite Films, which funded and owns the rights to The Wolf of Wall Street and the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber, allegedly used money meant for Malaysia’s economic development fund, 1 Malaysia Development Fund.
The fund was to be a global investment fund, with the money going back to the people of Malaysia for infrastructure projects but money from the fund was allegedly funnelled to Red Granite Films.
The US Justice Department claims more than $6 billion has been stolen from the fund. Today, it moved to recover $711 million in assets it claims were stolen from the fund.
Some of the items seized were given to DeCaprio to sell in a charity auction to raise money for the actor’s environmental foundation. His salary for The Wolf of Wall Street is also at risk as he was a producer on the film.
Prosecutors have moved to seize Red Granite Films’ rights to The Wolf of Wall Street and the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber.
Prosecutors additionally are seeking a $217 million yacht known as the Equanimity, artworks by Picasso and Basquiat and millions of dollars in jewellery.
The yacht is owned by billionaire Malaysian businessman Jho Low, who has also been named by the Justice Department. Low allegedly showered Australian model and businesswoman Miranda Kerr with millions of dollars of jewellery shortly after her divorce from Orlando Bloom.
For his very first gift, Low told his New York jeweller, Lorraine Schwartz, that he had “$US1-2 million” to spend and that size matters.
That gift — an 11.72 carat heart-shaped diamond that he bought for $US1.29 million — came in time for Valentine’s Day, shortly after Kerr’s divorce.
“Low gave the jewellery as gifts to Miranda Kerr, an Australian national,” according to the government complaint.
Low began to obsess about Kerr in January 2014. He met the jeweller in his pricey Time Warner condo, which, the government alleges, he also bought with stolen cash. At the condo, he chose the diamond and instructed the jeweller to inscribe it with Kerr’s initials, MK.
“Low gave the 11.72 carat heart-shaped diamond to Kerr, who resides in Los Angeles, as a Valentine’s Day present,” the court filings state.
In November 2014, Low put down $US3.8 million as partial payment for an 8.88 carat diamond pendant from Schwartz valued at around $4.5 million that he gave to Kerr as a gift.
He bought it after seeing a photo of it.
“Heart looks beautiful,” he wrote to his jeweller. “Let’s take it and be ready asap!”
The diamond was sent to Low in November at the London office of a lingerie company that the government alleges he had also purchased with stolen money. It came with a chain and necklace that cost $US800,000. He then spent an additional $1.98 million on 11 carat diamond earrings and a matching necklace, ring and bracelet, which he also gave to Kerr.
Low gave Kerr the diamonds while they were on his new yacht, the Equanimity. By October, he added $1 million 11 carat diamond earrings to his offerings to Kerr. He then wired another $4.05 million to Schwartz, to pay for it all. (He also sent diamonds to his mum.)
The Justice Department says the complex money laundering was intended to enrich top-level officials of the fund, including some close to the Malaysian Prime Minister.
The case is the largest single action the Justice Department has taken under its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which seeks to recover foreign bribery proceeds and embezzled funds. “These cases involve billions of dollars that should have been used to help the people of Malaysia, but instead was used by a small number of individuals to fuel their astonishing greed,” said Sandra R. Brown, acting US lawyer for the Central District of California.
She described a “web of lies and bogus transactions” and said “we simply will not allow the United States to be a place where corrupt individuals can expect to hide assets and lavishly spend money that should be used for the benefit of citizens of other nations.”
A DiCaprio spokesman said that the actor had initiated a return of the charity items.
“He has also returned an Oscar originally won by Marlon Brando, which was given to Mr. DiCaprio as a set gift by Red Granite to thank him for his work on The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Brando claimed in his autobiography that the Oscar disappeared and he spent years trying to find it. Aziz and MacFarland reportedly paid about $US790,000 for it from a New Jersey memorabilia dealer.
Red Granite released a statement saying it is trying to resolve the case and is fully co-operating with the Justice Department.
Najib has denied wrongdoing.