“At the risk of asking a stupid question, what do you do?” Prosecutor Nicole Lockhart asked Leonardo DiCaprio (48 years old, Los Angeles) seconds after he took the stand in a federal court in Washington on Monday, the 3rd. April to testify in Prakazrel’s trial Pras Michael. The rapper of the group hip hop The Fugees are accused of participating in a global political campaign finance scheme led by Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman. “I’m an actor,” DiCaprio replied to the delight of those present. A few minutes earlier, when government prosecutors called DiCaprio as a witness, several jurors who were beginning to show signs of boredom appeared surprised and even nervous at the superstar’s imminent appearance. One of them managed to make a feint of applause, although he managed to contain himself. DiCaprio appeared in a blue suit and appeared for just over an hour. He is the first of a long list of star witnesses expected in a legal process in which multiple celebrities will surely testify.
The case dates back to 2008, when the Malaysian government created 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a sovereign wealth fund aimed at developing the Southeast Asian country. Since 2015, the fund has been under intense scrutiny for suspicious money transactions to the point of implicating the then prime minister of the country, Najib Razak, who was sentenced in 2020 to 12 years in prison after being found guilty. of seven charges of corruption linked to the diversion of public funds to their personal accounts. Najib always defended his innocence, and argued that he had been “deceived” by Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman who, before turning thirty, already managed the operations of the fund. In 2016, the US authorities announced a judicial crackdown to recover millions of dollars of Malaysian public funds siphoned off 1MDB by Jho Low, and it is at this point that celebrity names began to appear.
According to the United States Department of Justice, which along with half a dozen countries is investigating what happened, more than $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund, of which $1 billion was spent by Jho Low. The Malaysian acquired luxurious properties in Manhattan and Hollywood, and did not skimp on parties and gifts for the stars with whom he liked to rub shoulders: Leonardo DiCaprio received a picasso and the model Miranda Kerr, very expensive diamonds. They were not the only VIPs honored, there are also figures such as Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears or Robert De Niro.
Rapper Pras Michel is accused of profiting from an alleged embezzlement scheme by Low. Supposedly, through the rapper, Low allocated two million to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, hiding the origin of the funds. In the United States, federal election law prohibits foreign nationals from donating to US campaigns. Prosecutors also say that Michel later launched an influence campaign to persuade the Trump administration to back down from its investigation of Low. Prosecutors also say the rapper pocketed $70 million for his work. His lawyers are expected to argue that the rapper did not know he was acting as a foreign agent and believed he was promoting American interests. Since Low is missing, he is the one on trial.
Leonardo DiCaprio is not accused of any crime and already in 2016 he began to collaborate with the US justice, ensuring that he would return all the money (and gifts) suspected of coming from the Malaysian fund. On the stand, the Oscar-winning actor has testified about his relationship with Low, in an effort by prosecutors to show that Low used stolen money to curry favor with performers, models and politicians in the United States. According to prosecutors, Low and DiCaprio were introduced by the stepson of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak at a 2010 birthday party for Low in Las Vegas. DiCaprio has stated that, when they were introduced, he deduced that Low was “sort of a prodigy in the business world and (a person) ultra-successful.” When asked about Michel, he said that he had known the rapper since the 1990s, when he attended a concert of his band. He also revealed that Michel had spent Thanksgiving at his house, though “memory may fail.”
As the actor has stated, his relationship with Low was purely social at first. DiCaprio has mentioned “a number of lavish parties” that he attended, invited by Low, around the world. Parties in which he has assured that Michel was also present. At one point in the shoot, he has mentioned a glitzy party where Low took a number of celebrities to Australia on New Year’s Eve, then flew them to Las Vegas in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve again.
Leonardo DiCaprio has also revealed that, in 2012, he spoke with Low about the presidential elections that were in progress at that time, in which Barack Obama ended up being re-elected as president against the Republican Mitt Romney. “It was an informal conversation about which party he supported, and I told him which party I supported,” the actor recounted. “And he told me that he, or he and a group, were going to make a significant contribution to the Democratic Party,” he continued, noting that the donation was around $20 million or $30 million. “I said, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money,’” DiCaprio added. Prosecutors believe that this money came from 1MDB and that Michel helped Low make donations through a series of front men.
DiCaprio has also testified about the financing of the film. The wolf of Wall Street in 2013 by Low. According to the actor, his lawyers and a production company carried out background checks on the Malaysian’s finances, who after this inspection obtained the green light to advance the deal. Prosecutors say this was a ploy by Low to launder money from 1MDB through a production company called Red Granite Pictures, which also financed movies like friends with children (2012) or the second part of the comedy Two dumbs so dumbs (2014). The wolf of Wall Street It had a budget of around $100 million and grossed more than $400 million worldwide. It was nominated for five Oscars and earned DiCaprio a Golden Globe, in whose acceptance speech he mentioned Low. The actor has also admitted that Low made donations to his foundation for the protection of the environment, and has explained that his relationship with him ended abruptly in 2015, when his representatives discovered an article that claimed that Low was using “illegal financing from Malaysia”.
In 2016, the US Department of Justice, in collaboration with the Federal Reserve, seized the assets of The wolf of Wall Street, including any future royalties generated by the film. He too picasso that Low had given DiCaprio as a gift, and that the businessman had allegedly bought with stolen funds. The actor and UN ambassador fully collaborated with the Department of Justice to determine whether he or his foundation “had directly or indirectly received gifts or donations” in the scandal. “Any suspicious donations will be returned,” he said.