UPDATE, 6:28 AM: The Justice Department just filed a 136-page civil complaint (read it here) charging The Wolf Of Wall Street producer Red Granite Pictures with participating in “an international conspiracy to launder money” tied to an investment and development company owned by the government of Malaysia.
Although the company, 1MDB, was supposed to engage in economic development, between 2009 and 2013 it diverted funds “for the personal benefit of the co-conspirators and their relatives and associates, including to purchase luxury real estate in the United States, pay gambling expenses at Las Vegas casinos, acquire more than $200 million in artwork, invest in a major New York real estate development project, and fund the production of major Hollywood films,” the Justice Department says. “1MDB maintained no interest in these assets and saw no returns on these investments.”
Deadline was the first to report the investigation into Red Granite in February.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and other law enforcement officials have scheduled a press conference in Washington D.C. at 11:30 AM ET, where they will formally announce the filing of civil forfeiture complaints seeking the forfeiture and recovery of more than $1 billion in assets associated with an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.
The complaint at the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles focuses on Low Taek Jho — more popularly known as Jho Low — a jet-setting Malaysian national who allegedly “laundered more than $400 million of the funds misappropriated from 1MDB” through the U.S. He was closely linked to Red Granite co-founder Riza Aziz.
The filing is filled with accounts of extravagant spending including a $1.15 million evening of gambling Low funded at the Venetian Casino in 2012 involving Aziz, Red Granite co-founder Christopher McFarland plus “a lead actor in The Wolf Of Wall Street” and a former Chief Investment Officer of 1MDB.
The actor appears to be Leonardo DiCaprio: He isn’t mentioned by name, but the filing says the actor won a Golden Globe for Wolf Of Wall Street and, in his acceptance speech, thanked Aziz and Low as “collaborators” — which DiCaprio did.
In addition to charging misuse of funds to pay for the movie, officials say Low siphoned cash to buy interests in real estate — including New York’s Park Lane Hotel, a penthouse in the Time Warner Building, and a mansion in Beverly Hills. He’s said to have funneled nearly $107 million to buy a major interest in EMI Music Publishing Group.
He also bought a Bombardier Jet, and art work including Vincent Van Gogh’s pen and ink drawing La maison de Vincent a Arles, and Claude Monet’s oil painting Saint-Georges Majeur.
Deadline broke the story in February that federal authorities were bearing down on what they are now calling a Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. It is relevant to Hollywood because of the direct tie to financier-producer Red Granite.
Leading the press conference will be Lynch, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe of the FBI, and Chief Richard Weber of IRS-Criminal Investigation.
PREVIOUS, TUESDAY 9:56 PM: The feds are about to move on Red Granite, the production company behind The Wolf of Wall Street whose co-founder Riza Aziz is the stepson of Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister. The Wall Street Journal reported tonight that U.S. prosecutors are ready to file civil lawsuits as early as Wednesday and launch the largest asset seizures in American history — it could exceed $850M.
The Justice Department (as well as law enforcement in other countries around the world) have, for months, been probing possible wrongdoing by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, his controversial 1MDB fund and a man named Low Taek Jho (also known as Jho Lo) who is a friend of Aziz’s. The federal investigation has been focused on whether the crime of money laundering applies to the transactions involving 1MDB, Low and production company Red Granite. The investigation is being handled by the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.
At issue is whether $155M moved through offshore companies and then used to fund expenditures and buy assets in the states. 1MDB was set up by Prime Minister Razak and Low, who received a special thanks at the end of The Wolf of Wall Street. Perhaps telling of the feds’ efforts, Low was cited repeatedly in an investigation in Malaysia last year over political slush funds and he is said to be involved in several companies that may have received funds from 1MDB.
Just yesterday, another company surfaced — Good Star Ltd. — which received over $1B from 1MDB and was long thought to have been owned by PetroSaudi International but was found, instead, to be solely owned by Low.
The U.S. DOJ could seize real estate and other assets from Low, Aziz and Red Granite or any other company owned/registered by/to them. Deadline investigated earlier this year and found 14 entities registered to Red Granite and had possible ties to Aziz. The feds were interested in their financial transactions. Red Granite, however, has consistently maintained, through a spokesman, that it has been involved in no wrongdoing.
The New York Times last year reported that it had found shell companies tied to Aziz and Low that spent about $150 million on real estate properties. Low is also a major investor in EMI Music Publishing and New York’s Park Lane Hotel. He was also tied to a $30.6M penthouse in New York, a $39 million mansion in the Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills’ L’Ermitage Hotel and part of the Park Lane Hotel. Aziz was tied to a $33.5 million condo on 63rd Street in NYC and several properties in Los Angeles including a Beverly Hills residence with a garden that includes a gold pyramid.
There is also said to be expensive artwork that was bought either by Red Granite, Aziz and/or Low that could be on a forfeiture list. Red Granite has backed several movies, including the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg comedy Daddy’s Home, which was the companies’ first 50-50 co-financing deal with Paramount with a budget of around $50M.
This case, although much larger in scope, is not unlike the 2014 case of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of the Equatorial Guinea president, who saw $30M in assets seized in the U.S. after it was found that the money was stolen from the African nation. Stay tuned.
Erik Pedersen contributed to this story.