Leo DiCaprio’s former drinking buddy, a man who helped skim $3 billion from a Malaysian government-owned wealth fund and used part of it to fund The Wolf of Wall Street and donate to the Leo DiCaprio Foundation, is back in the news again. This time, Jho Low stands accused of using laundered funds numbering in the tens of millions of dollars to pay his legal defense team, which includes former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and another attorney who has worked for the current President, Donald Trump.
This is not the first time that a close associate of DiCaprio’s, and a large-scale donor to the Leo DiCaprio Foundation, known as LDF, has run up against serious legal troubles. And it’s not the first time that, after accepting lavish gifts, generous business dealings, and massive charitable donations that DiCaprio and his foundation have benefited off the backs of shady individuals who have turned out to be bona fide crooks.
Yet, the public is rarely kept abreast of Leo’s penchant for cavorting with the crooked. Or the reality that the closed nature in which his foundation is set up prevents a true examination of its finance. So much so that one could wonder whether Hollywood’s favorite son’s well-known ties to politicians and their causes has anything to do with the gracious perception that he is nothing more than a victim of opportunistic sleaze balls roping an unwitting celebrity into their schemes.
Hollywood is known for being a political town, and particularly one that leans hard to the left. DiCaprio was designated in 2014 as a U.N. Messenger of Peace. The actor has chosen climate change as his white whale, giving impassioned, if not condescending, monologues to the likes of the United Nations governing body and, frankly, anybody else who will listen. This agenda, along with the typical array of stances that Hollywooders tend to take, led him to host a Hillary Clinton fundraiser. Or, he would have, if Leo’s connections to the Malaysian 1MDB embezzlement scheme hadn’t become an inconvenient truth which led him to disassociate from the eventual failed presidential candidate.
When the extent of DiCaprio’s ties to Jho Low, the financier behind one of the largest fraud cases in history, did emerge in the summer of 2016, most were surprised by how close the actor was to somebody who would so brazenly siphon money from the Malaysian government.
Here’s what Low stands accused of:
‘The civil suits seek more than $1 billion in allegedly stolen assets, including van Gogh and Monet paintings and U.S. real estate. The 35-year-old is accused of attempting to funnel billions of dollars from a Malaysian state fund called 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, and launder it through a series of international transactions.’ (Fortune)
And, many were surprised as to how Low was tied to DiCaprio, and specifically his film The Wolf of Wall Street. A movie studio essentially funded by Low, Red Granite Pictures, won the bid for the film’s rights, and the funding was provided courtesy of the stolen 1MDB assets.
‘Red Granite eventually would surprise Hollywood insiders by landing the rights to DiCaprio's passion project The Wolf of Wall Street. The DOJ complaint alleges, however, that the financing for the film came from a $238 million pot of money siphoned from the 1MDB fund.’ (THR)
Singularly funding one of Leo’s most successful movies is not where Low’s ties to DiCaprio end. After DiCaprio shouted Low out as a “collaborator” in a 2014 Golden Globes acceptance speech, the gifts came rolling in.
‘The Malaysian returned the favor in grand fashion with splashy bromantic gifts — in one instance, according to the DOJ, he and the Red Granite execs brought DiCaprio along on an $11 million gambling bender in Las Vegas; in another, they reportedly laid out $600,000 to gift him Marlon Brando's best actor Oscar statuette for On the Waterfront.’ (THR)
His foundation saw generous donations from Low, too…
‘They also made donations to DiCaprio's foundation. At the actor's birthday party in 2013, Low and McFarland were among those who reportedly helped raise more than $3 million for the charity by buying marked-up bottles of champagne. Earlier that year, diverted 1MDB funds were alleged by the DOJ complaint to have been used by Low to purchase a pair of artworks (for a total of $1.1 million) by Ed Ruscha and Mark Ryden at a Christie's auction benefiting the LDF…’ (THR)
It makes you wonder, if an actor donates $20 million to “battle climate change” but the public can’t be sure whether the money is actually his or a gift from a shady friend, perhaps diverted through his charity, then what is it actually worth, principally speaking?
Philanthropy authorities say the LDF, with its possibly subsidized staff and lavish events — as well as, crucially, its international solicitation apparatus — is a relative anomaly among community foundation DAFs, which typically are far more simple: A donor provides his own money and then advises where it should be spent. "It's unusual," says Ann Skeet, a director at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, which examines ethics in businesses and nonprofits. Adds Ray Madoff, head of The Forum on Philanthropy and the Public Good at Boston College Law School, "Typically, Leonardo DiCaprio would gift his own assets to his donor-advised fund rather than using it as a fundraising vehicle." (THR)
Making matters worse, this was not the first time that DiCaprio or his foundation had been tied to criminals with conveniently fat wallets.
There was his once money manager Dana Giacchetto, for whom Leo’s star as an early client attracted several famous movie stars and musicians as clients. Eventually Giacchetto was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling approximately $10 million from his clients, of which DiCaprio was apparently a victim.
There’s also the case of Hillel “Helly” Nahmad, a former art dealer who is also connected to the 1MDB scandal. Nahmad, the heir to a billion-dollar art dealer family empire, had his New York gallery raided as part of an FBI investigation into a $100 million-plus dollar money laundering scheme connected to Russian organized crime. Nahmad would eventually be sent to jail for a few months, and was promptly back poppin’ bottles with DiCaprio in Malibu upon his release.
I’m not saying that DiCaprio is guilty of a crime, but his ability to either not recognize shady behavior or keep a healthy wink-and-nod relationship with individuals who can directly benefit him and his foundation without incriminating himself is second-to none in the world of A-list movie stars.
Then there’s the matter of the Leo DiCaprio Foundation itself, which is set up in such a way that makes examination of its finances impermissible, a reality that necessarily breeds questions about transparency.
‘Set up not as a nonprofit but instead as a donor-advised fund (DAF) attached to the California Community Foundation, which is a nonprofit, the LDF therefore is not required to file itemized public disclosures about its own revenue, expenditures and disbursements. "It's difficult to characterize the giving of the DiCaprio Foundation because its status as part of the CCF makes it impossible to look at its finances," industry trade journal Inside Philanthropy noted in 2015.’ (THR)
The nature of the LDF has led many to wonder who has donated, where their donations originated, and what level of piercing the veil between personal finances and the charity’s coffers may occur. Literally none of these questions have been answered despite repeated attempts by charitable responsibility organizations. The fact that we know for a fact Jho Low donated significant amounts to the Leo DiCaprio Foundation does nothing to remove the air of secrecy.
Yet, despite knowing this, Leo was “urged” to give the money back. There’s no evidence that he has or that he was facing any legal ramifications had he chosen not to. Again, the public has no ability nor right to look at the LDF books, and authorities apparently didn’t find the issue worthwhile enough to pursue.
Which brings us to the point that, if somebody is politically connected enough and culturally beloved to the extent that DiCaprio is, they can get away with not only associating with white collar criminals of the highest order time and again, but of directly benefitting financially from that friendship.
And, somehow such an individual can continue to tell the public how irresponsible they are for not driving a Tesla, all the while routinely utilizing helicopter as a mode of transportation when far less environmentally unfriendly means would have been feasible, not to mention cheaper.
This is the reality we live in, one of celebrity worship and dualistic justice. And one where Leo DiCaprio gets the benefit of the doubt, and his foundation continues to rake in questionable dollars from his even more questionable friends without repercussion, time and again.
The Wolf of Wall Street, indeed.