WED,07 MAY 2014
US law firm says misappropriated ‘family money’ backed ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
A Los Angeles-based law firm is charging that embezzled or misappropriated funds from a foreign nation – apparently Malaysia – were used to fund the Hollywood movie production and financing company Red Granite, which made the Oscar-nominated movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese.
The charge, by the law firm of Freedman & Taitelman, alleges that “family money” from Riza Aziz, the son of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s wife Rosmah Mansor, was used to create Red Granite. The company was founded in 2009 by Riza, whose full name is Shahriz bin Abdul Aziz, and Christopher "Joey" McFarland.
Riza Aziz is listed on Red Granite’s website as the company’s co-founder, chairman, and CEO.
The allegations follow on the heels of another story that appears to confirm that funds from a Malaysian sovereign fund, 1 Malaysia Development Bhd, better known as 1MDB, backed a vain 2011 attempt by flamboyant tycoon Jho Low, a close friend of Rosmah’s, to buy three prestigious London hotels including the iconic Claridge’s.
Penang-born Jho Low, 32, was also part of the entourage around “The Wolf of Wall Street,” even receiving an on-screen credit and “special thanks” from the movie’s producers.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” cost roughly US$100 million to make and is expected to gross as much as US$315 million from domestic and overseas sales, meaning that if the prime minister’s wife did front the money, she stands to make a healthy return.
Beyond charging that money from Malaysia funded Red Granite, the lawsuit is short on details. It doesn’t say who embezzled or misappropriated the funds, or how they were transferred from Malaysia to the US.
Brian Freedman, the lawyer leading the case, refused comment when Asia Sentinel contacted him by telephone.
It should be noted that Hollywood lawsuits often start out delivering spectacular charges and end up being settled quietly. Producer Alexandra Milchan also filed suit in 2010 against Red Granite, alleging she had been cut out of the deal to produce Wolf. Red Granite countersued and the two ended up settling, with Milchan getting an executive producer credit on the movie.
Rosmah married Najib in 1987 after she divorced her previous husband, Abul Aziz Nong Chik, with whom she had two children, one of them Riza Aziz.
Rosmah, once dubbed “the first lady of shopping” by the Sydney Morning Herald, has long been suspected in Malaysia of amassing a vast fortune under the table. In January 2013, a Kuala Lumpur-based carpet dealer named Deepak Jaikishan alleged that he had conducted US$985 million worth of quiet business dealings for the 61-year-old prime minister’s wife, although he didn’t say over what period, or deliver details for most of the transactions. He also published an e-book at that time that was mainly taken up with US$4 million worth of receipts for purchases he allegedly conducted for her through Hong Kong jewelers.
In the lawsuit, filed on behalf of movie producers Brad Krevoy and Steve Stabler, the law firm alleges that “Red Granite is funded with monies that include proceeds from offenses against a foreign nation that include bribery of public officials, or misappropriation, theft, or embezzlement of public funds by a public official.”
The plaintiffs, according to the lawsuit, “are informed and believe that public officials in Asia and the Middle East have taken bribes and/or misappropriated, stolen or embezzled funds, and that those ill-gotten funds have then been invested in Red Granite.”
Red Granite, the suit alleges, has “engaged in multiple financial transactions within the United States – including financing of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and then separately financing ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ with knowledge that the property involved represented the proceeds of illegal activity and with knowledge that the transactions were designed to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the proceeds of the illegal activity,” all in violation of the US statute governing money laundering.
The defendants, according to the suit, “have used and invested the proceeds of their pattern of racketeering activity in the operation of Red Granite, in violation of the so-called RICO statute, which makes it illegal for any person who has received any income derived, directly or indirectly, from a pattern of racketeering activity.”
Despite citing the two provisions of federal law, there is no indication that Freedman & Taitelman has taken the allegations to US authorities.
Krevoy and Stabler, the producers of the original “Dumb and Dumber” movie starring Jim Carey and directed by the Farrelly Brothers, allege that Red Granite was seeking to squeeze them out of the production rights for “Dumb and Dumber To,” which was followed by “Dumb and Dumberer.”
In the pleading, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on March 25, the plaintiffs charge that “Red Granite has established a pattern of using Shahriz Bin Abdul Aziz's [Riza Aziz] family money to buy motion picture franchises from the studios that developed them and purporting to assume the studios' obligations relating to the franchises, but then reneging on contractual obligations.”
Krevoy and Stabler allege they had a written agreement with the original production company, New Line Cinema, that gave them right of first negotiation to produce sequels and/or remakes on terms at least as favorable as on the original, entitling them to the same compensation on a sequel as they were paid for the original.
The success of the original Dumber film generated huge overseas demand for a sequel, according to the complaint, as long it would star Carey and co-star Jeff Daniels, be directed by the Farrelly Brothers and produced by Krevoy, Stabler, and Charles Wessler.
But, the complaint alleges, despite an understanding that Krevoy and Stabler would be hired to produce the sequel, Red Granite made an attractive financial proposal to acquire the rights, which New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. accepted.
“Despite Plaintiff's substantial contribution to the Original and to the initial development of the Sequel, McFarland and Shahriz Bin Abdul Aziz caused New Line Cinema to wash its hands of Plaintiffs' agreement and Red Granite to renege on the obligations to Plaintiffs that it purported to assume from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros.”
The suit accuses Red Granite, McFarland and Riza Aziz of having “maliciously created this scheme to deprive plaintiffs of their contractual right to payment from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. in connection with the sequel.”
The plaintiffs charge they are entitled to a minimum of $400,000 in compensation plus additional damages.