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(New York Post) “The Wolf of Wall Street” didn’t just tell the story of a crooked stockbroker who scammed millions of dollars that he blew on drugs and hookers — the Leonardo DiCaprio movie was itself financed with stolen money, the feds charged Wednesday.
A civil suit filed by the US Justice Department demands all future profits, royalties and distribution proceeds from the Oscar-nominated 2013 flick on the grounds that it was part of an international money-laundering scheme involving a development firm set up by the prime minister of Malaysia.
“This is a case where life imitated art,” said US Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell.
In a series of interrelated complaints, the feds are seeking a total $1 billion in assets paid for with money allegedly stolen by corrupt Malaysian officials and their associates from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, also known as 1MDB.
The fund “was created to promote economic development . . . with the ultimate goal of improving the well-being of the Malaysian people,” but “unfortunately and tragically, a number of corrupt officials treated this public trust as a personal bank account,” US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, July 20, 2016, at the Justice Department in Washington, announcing that the U.S. government is seeking the forfeiture of more than $1 billion in assets that federal officials say were misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. The Justice Department says the funds that were laundered into the U.S. were used for various assets, including real estate and hotel properties, a jet aircraft, fancy artwork and the production of the Oscar-nominated movie, The Wolf of Wall Street. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The assets include five swank Manhattan properties: penthouses in the Time Warner Center and Walker Tower, condos in the Park Laurel building and at 118 Greene St., and a stake in the Park Lane Hotel.
A Malaysian development fund set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak allegedly purchased a $30 million condo at the Time Warner Center -.Photo: Dan Brinzac
More than $100 million of the loot also allegedly went to produce “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which has raked in more than $392 million in ticket sales worldwide. It is director Martin Scorsese’s highest-grossing film.
“Of course, neither 1MDB or the Malaysian people saw a penny of profit from that film or the other assets purchased with funds siphoned from 1MDB,” Caldwell said.
“Instead, that money went to relatives and associates of the corrupt officials of 1MDB and others.”
Caldwell said the suit targets only the movie’s future earnings because the feds aren’t “able to seize anything retroactively.”
“The Wolf of Wall Street” spent six years in development hell due to its salacious, R-rated subject matter before it was finally green-lighted by a virtually unknown production company, Red Granite Pictures, which footed almost all the costs, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The suit identifies infamous party animal Low Taek Jho — better known as “Jho Low” — as a key figure in the film’s funding, noting that he personally distributed more than $10 million for the project.
Jho Low (right) pictured partying with Usher
The Los Angeles federal court filing notes that Low got a full-screen “special thanks” in the closing credits and was among three people singled out as “collaborators” during DiCaprio’s acceptance speech when he won the 2014 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture.
DiCaprio also gave shoutouts to Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and a co-founder of Red Granite, and to Joey McFarland, Red Granite’s other co-founder.
Riza Aziz (left) with ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie
The suit also alleges that DiCaprio — who is identified only as “a lead actor in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ ” but can be identified through the complaint’s description — went gambling with Low, Aziz and McFarland at The Venetian Las Vegas on July 15, 2012. The foursome had more than $1.15 million in 1MDB funds with which to gamble. It was deposited into Low’s account.
The suit says Red Granite bankrolled “The Wolf of Wall Street” with 1MDB funds funneled into a Swiss bank account held in the name of Good Star Limited.
Cash was then transferred into various accounts at City National Bank in Los Angeles and doled out to pay the film’s production costs.
“These funds are directly traceable to the $700 million wire transfer and $330 million wire transfers unlawfully diverted from 1MDB to the Good Star account,” the suit says.
Specific payments included 17 separate transfers, totaling $3.9 million, to the Scorsese-owned Sikelia Productions company, $48 million to an unidentified film-industry management firm and at least $4.1 million to various visual-effects companies.
About $2.5 million went to the Screen Actors Guild, and another $80,000 was paid to a charter-yacht company, the suit says.
One of the most memorable scenes in “The Wolf of Wall Street” features DiCaprio — portraying real-life stock fraudster Jordan Belfort — being questioned by FBI agents aboard a yacht docked off Battery Park City.
Sources told The Post that Low “lavished money” on DiCaprio. “He would give him half a million bucks to come to a Vegas party on a private plane and all the chips on the house. They also asked Scorsese, who turned them down,” the source said.
Lynch said more than $3 billion was scammed from 1MDB, but officials have so far been able to trace only $1 billion through American financial systems.
Reps for DiCaprio and Scorsese didn’t return requests for comment, but Red Granite issued a statement saying “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.”
In addition to funding “The Wolf of Wall Street,” staggering amounts of stolen cash were spent on luxuries that the feds are seeking to have forfeited, including:
- A $5.5 million Vincent van Gogh drawing.
- Two paintings by Claude Monet valued at $92.5 million.
- A $240 million stake in the Park Lane Hotel at 36 Central Park South.
- The $50.9 million penthouse at the Walker Tower in Chelsea.
- A $35 million Bombardier jet.
- The $44.8 million L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills.
- A $30.5 million penthouse at the Time Warner Building at
80 Columbus Circle, which was bought sight unseen.
Starting in 2009, Low made headlines for spending millions in clubs with celebrities for whom he was footing the bill, including Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Jamie Foxx and DiCaprio, who accompanied him on yachts, jets, casinos, nightclubs and ski trips all over the world.
Written by Jennifer Gould and Bruce Golding
Additional reporting by Kevin Dugan