LOS ANGELES: A notable absentee from the annual fundraiser for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) this year was Malaysian Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low.
The party – with billionaires, booze and babes – in St Tropez was held on July 20, the same day the US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed civil forfeiture suits against Low and several other individuals and firms.
According to The Hollywood Reporter (THR), the DoJ filings indicate that Leonardo DiCaprio was “a bit player in the planet’s largest embezzlement case, totalling more than US$3 billion siphoned” from 1MDB.
The report says although the DoJ complaint does not target DiCaprio, who is referred to twice in the 136-page document as “Hollywood Actor 1”, the scandal shines an unfamiliar light on his charitable foundation.
The report says that as early as 2010, Low had become a regular drinking buddy of DiCaprio.
Low introduced Riza Aziz, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s stepson, to Joey McFarland and together they set up Red Granite Pictures, which produced DiCaprio’s passion project Wolf of Wall Street.
The DoJ complaint alleges that the financing for the film came from a US$238 million pot of money siphoned from 1MDB. Red Granite has denied any wrongdoing.
According to the DoJ, Low and Red Granite executives brought DiCaprio along on a US$11 million gambling trip to Las Vegas and also spent US$600,000 to buy Marlon Brando’s best actor Oscar statuette for On the Waterfront as a gift for DiCaprio, who had only won his first Oscar this year for the film Revenant.
Low is also said to have purchased a pair of artwork costing US$1.1 million at a Christie’s auction benefiting the LDF.
The report says it is unclear whether the DoJ will try to recoup assets, allegedly bought with money from 1MDB, that were donated to the LDF. The DoJ declined to comment other than to tell THR that “this is an ongoing investigation”.
THR says it has learned, however, that charities are not off-limits in such asset-seizure cases.
THR says a close look at the LDF itself “raises questions about its ties to the 1MDB players as well as the lack of transparency often for the specific structure the actor has chosen for his endeavour”.
The report says the LDF was set up, not as a non-profit, but as a donor-advised fund (DAF) attached to the California Community Foundation (CCF), which is a non-profit. This means the LDF is not required to file itemised public disclosures about its own revenue, expenditures and disbursements.
THR says despite repeated efforts, DiCaprio, 41, the LDF and the CCF all “declined to fully answer fundamental questions related to transparency and accountability of the foundation”.
“Everything might be perfectly fine (in the LDF), but we don’t know,” it quoted Aaron Dorfman, president of the Washington DC-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy as saying.
The LDF said the July 20 gala raised more than US$45 million in funds for global conservation efforts but it has refused to provide documentation to THR to support these and other claims.