An anti-corruption watchdog has urged actor Leonardo DiCaprio to return his earnings from the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street if the money is found to be linked to the billions of dollars misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund that was earmarked for development in the Southeast Asian country.
In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday, Samantha Grant of Berlin-based NGO Transparency International said the organization would “very much like to see” DiCaprio return his paycheck for the film to the Malaysian people.
The actor is estimated to have earned around $25 million for his portrayal of unscrupulous Wall Street investor Jordan Belfort in the Martin Scorsese-directed film.
“If that money is found by the DoJ to be corrupt, to not give it back sort of says that money that was due to go to the Malaysian public is sitting in Leonardo DiCaprio’s account,” Grant told THR.
Grant added that the actor could “protect” himself and his reputation as an environmental advocate by signing Transparency International’s Declaration Against Corruption.
A number of organizations and at least one charity have in recent months called on DiCaprio to return what they some have called “ill-gotten” donations to his environmental-focused Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
The Department of Justice is investigating what is believed to be the world’s largest embezzlement scheme, involving Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. An exposé in the Hollywood Reporter last summer alleged that billionaire Malaysian businessman and 1MDB advisor Jho Low had used money siphoned from the fund to make donations to DiCaprio’s charity foundation, including by purchasing artwork that was later auctioned off at the actor’s annual environmental gala in St. Tropez, France.
The DOJ further alleges that hundreds of millions of dollars embezzled from the fund were used by U.S. production company Red Granite Pictures to fund production on The Wolf of Wall Street, for which DiCaprio won a Golden Globe in the starring role. Red Granite Pictures was co-founded by the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s step-son Riza Aziz, himself a central figure in the Justice Department investigation of the fund.
At a press conference in London earlier this month, Malaysian rainforest preservation charity Bruno Manser Funds demanded the actor return any questionable donations made to his foundation or else resign as a United Nations Messenger of Peace for climate change, a position he was awarded in 2014. Executives from the charity were subsequently denied entry to the London Film Festival premiere of DiCaprio’s climate change documentary Before the Flood.
A spokesperson for DiCaprio issued a statement earlier this month saying that both the actor and his eponymous foundation were “entirely supportive of all efforts to assure that justice is done in this matter.”
“Several months ago in July, Mr. DiCaprio first learned through press reports of the government’s civil action against some of the parties involved in the making of The Wolf of Wall Street,” the spokesperson said in a statement obtained by THR. “He immediately had his representatives reach out to the Department of Justice to determine whether he or his foundation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF), ever received any gifts or charitable donations directly or indirectly related to these parties, and if so, to return those gifts or donations as soon as possible. All contact was initiated by Mr DiCaprio and LDF.”
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum