Report: Leo DiCaprio Foundation Tied to $3B Malaysian Embezzlement Scheme

Paramount/Red Granite Pictures

Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio has in recent years become almost as famous for his charity foundation’s opulent fundraising soirées as he has for his meaty roles in Hollywood dramas like The Wolf of Wall Street and The Revenant.

But now the two worlds may be colliding, as the real-life drama surrounding his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s alleged ties to a massive Malaysian embezzlement scheme sounds like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster.

According to an in-depth report by the Hollywood Reporter, some donations made to DiCaprio’s charitable foundation allegedly came straight from funds embezzled from a so-called Malaysian “sovereign wealth fund” that were originally earmarked for development in the country.

That fund, 1MDB, is already at the center of an international investigation for its alleged misuse of $3 billion in development funds, with the U.S. Department of Justice charging that politically-connected Malaysian businessman and 1MDB advisor Jho Low spent $1 billion of the money on a personal shopping spree. The DOJ complaint also charges that Red Granite Pictures — a production company co-founded by the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s stepson, Riza Aziz — used $238 million of 1MDB money to fund production on the 2013 Martin Scorsese-directed film The Wolf of Wall Street, for which DiCaprio won a Golden Globe in the starring role.

But now, according to the Hollywood Reporter, DiCaprio’s environment-focused charity is alleged to have received gifts and donations directly from funds embezzled from 1MDB.

THR‘s Gary Baum reports:

At the actor’s birthday party in 2013, Low and [Red Granite co-founder Joey] McFarland were among those who reportedly helped raise more than $3 million for the charity by buying marked-up bottles of champagne. Earlier that year, diverted 1MDB funds were alleged by the DOJ complaint to have been used by Low to purchase a pair of artworks (for a total of $1.1 million) by Ed Ruscha and Mark Ryden at a Christie’s auction benefiting the LDF (one of many buys during a spending spree that shook the art world). And at the glittering St. Tropez auction held in 2015, with the likes of David Geffen, Paul Allen, Tom Barrack and Harvey Weinstein in attendance, Low offered the LDF a sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein, 1982’s Brushstroke, valued at roughly $700,000. But Low wasn’t there to see it go under the hammer; instead, he is believed to have fled to Taiwan — which has no extradition treaty with the U.S. — as the net of international investigators began closing in.

Breitbart News reported in July that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s third annual fundraising gala in St. Tropez, France this summer raised a record $45 million for the charity’s environmental initiatives. The event boasted a deep A-list guest list; Robert De Niro, Kevin Spacey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cate Blanchett and Charlize Theron served as the event’s co-chairs, while DiCaprio pals Edward Norton, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper and U2 frontman Bono all made the trip to France for the splashy gala.

THR‘s report offers awkward and potentially embarrassing new details about the July 20 party; most notably, that guests were helicoptered to the site and served whole sea bass for dinner after having viewed a film on the dangers of overfishing.

But in the wake of the Department of Justice complaint, questions have centered on how DiCaprio’s charitable foundation is structured. According to THR, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is set up as a “donor-advised fund” under the California Community Foundation, rather than as a traditional nonprofit organization. That means the foundation is not required to disclose how and where it spends its money, as well as how much it takes in in the form of charitable donations.

The report concludes that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation may have faced relatively little scrutiny in recent years due to the stature of its founder. CharityWatch president Daniel Borochoff told THR that the organization’s structure “allows them to shirk accountability.”

“[DiCaprio’s] able to fundraise with [a donor-advised fund] because he’s such a huge international celebrity. If you were an unknown, it would be a lot harder because people would quickly start asking questions,” Borochoff told the outlet.

Read the Hollywood Reporter‘s full report here.


Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum


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