UPDATE with Red Granite statement: “To Red Granite’s knowledge, none of the funding it received four years ago was in any way illegitimate and there is nothing in today’s civil lawsuit claiming that Red Granite knew otherwise. Red Granite continues to cooperate fully with all inquiries and is confident that when the facts come out, it will be clear that Riza Aziz and Red Granite did nothing wrong. Red Granite does not expect the lawsuit – which is limited to future proceeds generated by a single film, and which was not filed against Red Granite or any of its employees – to impact its day to day operations, and the company continues to move forward with exciting new projects.”
PREVIOUSLY, 9:33 AM: “The U.S. offers no safe haven for those who illegally use public funds for private gains,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in this morning’s D.C. press conference by the Department of Justice in alleging a vast scheme carried out by co-conspirators — which included The Wolf of Wall Street producer Red Granite and its co-founder Riza Aziz — to enrich themselves to the detriment of the Malaysian people. The investigation is ongoing and continuing into Red Granite and Aziz as well as Low Taek Jho — known as Jho Low –and the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), officials said. You can read the filing in Los Angeles Central District Court here.
1MDB has been in existence since 2009, when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak turned it into a state-run entity, ostensibly to help the economic well-being of Malaysia. Jho Low was one of its architects. The DOJ said the funds were “stolen” from 1MDB amount to the tune of more than $3 billion. Corrupt officials at 1MDB “used this account as a personal bank account,” they said. Deadline was the first to report the federal investigation into Red Granite back in February:
Staff of Red Granite on Sunset Blvd. were not in the offices this AM, but late today are now working there as word came that the government was in the process of seizing the company’s assets. Neither Aziz nor Joey McFarland showed up as of 2 PM today.
This is a civil forfeiture action that allows the government to seize assets and that includes anything hereforewith from the Red Granite-produced film The Wolf of Wall Street which was funded through corrupt practices. “We’re seeking to restrain anything that Red Granite would receive on an ongoing basis — royalties or any fees coming in from any interest in that film.” According to Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Criminal Division, Red Granite used 1MDB money to fund the Martin Scorsese directed, Leonardo DiCaprio-starring film.
The feds filed this AM outlining all the extravagant spending that involved Red Granite co-founders Riza Aziz and Christopher “Joey” McFarland, a former chief investment office of 1MDB and a Hollywood actor they said was a lead actor in Red Granite’s The Wolf of Wall Street (clearly DiCaprio). The spending and asset gathering of Jho Lo is one of the focuses of the crime; he allegedly laundered more than $400M of funds misappropriated from 1MDB. Jho Lo received a special thanks at the end of the film The Wolf of Wall Street.
Calling it a “complex web of transactions that these co-conspirators used to launder billions of dollars that they stole from the people of Malaysia,” said Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney of the Criminal Division. That money was used to fund Red Granite Pictures, who allegedly used “more than $100M of that money to finance the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. Of course, neither 1MDB nor the Malaysian people saw a penny of profit from that film or from any of the other assets that were purchased from funds that were siphoned from 1MDB.”
“Because the assets were laundered money, the future rights to the film are subject to the forfeiture complain that was filed today in Los Angeles,” said Caldwell.
“Corrupt officials at 1MDB and their associates began a sophisticated scheme to enrich themselves” through shell companies used to pay gambling debts in Las Vegas, rented luxury yachts, hired an interior decorator, and spent millions in real estate, spent $35 million on a private jet, said FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. “The Malaysian people were defrauded on an enormous scale.”
IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Richard Weber announced the seizure of assets during the conference. He said his L.A. fields offices got involved in October 2015 “specifically focusing on Riza Aziz and Red Granite Pictures. Approximately $238 million was wired to Red Granite Capital in Singapore, an entity controlled by Aziz … wire transfers totaling approximately $64 million were sent from the Red Granite Capital account to the City National Bank in the U.S. maintained by Red Granite Pictures, a production company also owned by Aziz. This money was then used to fund Red Granite operations, including the production of the film The Wolf of Wall Street. Additionally, the misappropriation of funds was used to acquire nearly $100 million in real estate in the U.S. and the United Kingdom and elsewhere for the benefit of Aziz.”
Included in that list is a Beverly Hills Mansion currently under construction, a Park Laurel condo in New York City, and a townhouse in the U.K.
U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California said that a bond arranged by Goldman Sachs international was then alleged to be used by 1MDB to misappropriate funds. “Only days after the initial bond sale, approximately $1.26 billion was diverted for the benefit of individuals associated with 1MDB. Approximately $137M of the pilfered money was used to purchase works of art, including a $35M work by Claude Monet … but these works of art were not put in museums in Malaysia for the benefit of the population. Rather they were obtained to further enhance the luxury and lavish lifestyles of those stealing money from 1MBD.” Decker also noted that that money was also traced to the purchase of an interest in the Park Lane Hotel in New York. “We seek to forfeit approximately a quarter of a billion dollars invested in that luxury hotel.” An additional $106M “of laundered money” was used to purchase an interest in EMI Music Publishing by Jho Low was also allegedly misappropriated.
“Since the conspirators purchased the interest in EMI, it was they and not the citizens of Malaysia who earn money every time those songs were performed publicly, recorded or downloaded. In seeking to seize these forfeited items, the Department of Justice is sending a message: That we will not allow the United States to become a playground for the corrupt. That we will not allow it to become a platform for money laundering or a place to hide and invest in stolen riches,” she said.
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