Leonardo DiCaprio has handed over to the federal government an Oscar originally won by Marlon Brando that he was gifted by Red Granite Pictures for his work on The Wolf of Wall Street, as the Department of Justice closes in on the production company’s alleged involvement in a massive Malaysian embezzlement scheme.
According to Deadline, the DOJ filed an asset seizure request Thursday in a California court against Red Granite, the film production company that has been accused of using millions of dollars stolen from a fund intended to benefit the people of Malaysia to pay for its productions.
In the filing, the government reportedly argued it should be entitled to seize the Red Granite films Dumb and Dumber To and Daddy’s Home as well as precious artwork purchased by the production company with what DOJ claims is stolen money. The filing reportedly includes a request to seize real estate, valuable artwork by Van Gogh and Picasso and an original poster for the 1927 Fritz Lang film Metropolis, said to be worth $1.3 million, that reportedly hangs on the wall at Red Granite’s office.
An August exposé in the Hollywood Reporter detailed the link between DiCaprio, his eponymous environmental foundation and 1MDB, the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund at the center of the scandal. The DOJ alleges that Malaysian businessman and 1MDB advisor Jho Low funneled millions of dollars stolen from the fund into the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, including for the purchase of artwork that was later auctioned off at the actor’s annual environmental charity gala in St. Tropez, France.
The DOJ also alleges that hundreds of millions of dollars (of the more than $3 billion reported to have been misappropriated from the fund, in what could be the world’ largest-ever embezzlement scheme) went to Red Granite Pictures to fund its productions, including The Wolf of Wall Street, the 2013 financial crime dramedy for which DiCaprio won a Golden Globe in the starring role.
Red Granite — co-founded by the prime minister of Malaysia’s step-son, Riza Aziz, himself a central figure in the DOJ investigation — was reported to have given DiCaprio the Oscar won by Marlon Brando for his role in the 1954 classic On the Waterfront as a gift for his work on Wolf of Wall Street.
In a statement to Deadline Thursday, representatives for DiCaprio — who finally won his own acting Oscar for The Revenant in 2015 — said the actor reached out to the DOJ last summer to help cooperate with the investigation and to see if he needed to return any potentially ill-gotten gifts or donations. The actor was reported to have earned around $25 million for his role as unscrupulous 90s Wall Street investor Jordan Belfort in the Martin Scorsese-directed film.
“Prior to the government’s filing of the civil pleading today, Mr. DiCaprio initiated return of these items, which were received and accepted by him for the purpose of being included in an annual charity auction to benefit his eponymous foundation,” the actor’s reps said. “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.”
“Mr. DiCaprio is grateful for the support of the government in this effort, and continues to hope that justice is done in this matter,” the statement added.
In its own statement, Red Granite said it was “fully cooperating” with the federal investigation while it continues to work on developing upcoming films.
Last year, a number of environmental charities called on DiCaprio to return any money that may have come from the Malaysian development fund.
“In keeping the ill-gotten money, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is acting in complete contradiction to its mission statement, which is to be ‘dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants… while restoring balance to threatened ecosystems and communities,” Peter Kallang of the environmental group Save Rivers said in a statement in September.
“The money should thus be returned to the people of Malaysia to stop the massive destruction to the environment and ecosystem from land developments and pollution,” he added.
In October, rainforest preservation charity The Bruno Manser Funds called on the actor to resign his post as a U.N. Messenger of Peace for climate change as a result of the scandal.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum