'Wolf of Wall Street' Producers At Center of Multi-Million Dollar Criminal Asset Seizure.
Assets held by Red Granite co-founder Riza Aziz and close associate Jho Low are expected to be cited in a major civil lawsuit being filed Wednesday by the Department of Justice, linking them to a $7 billion Malaysian corruption scandal.
Red Granite, the embattled production company behind The Wolf of Wall Street, is expected to be named as part of one of the largest asset seizures in history when the Department of Justice launches civil lawsuits on Wednesday, multiple sources confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. The Wall Street Journal was first to report the news.
The banner is alleged to have become embroiled in a major corruption scandal stemming from Malaysia, understood to involve in excess of $7 billion dollars that was diverted from a sovereign wealth fund called 1MDB into lavish purchases around the world between 2009 and 2015. As much as $238 million is alleged to have been funneled into Red Granite since it launched with a splash in 2011, of which approximately $100 million went to produce The Wolf of Wall Street.
No details of what assets will be seized are available, but the WSJ reports, citing people familiar with the matter, that the value will exceed the record-breaking $850 million seized in assets in 2015 involving three telecom companies in an unrelated case.
The seizures could include the assets of Riza Aziz, the CEO and co-founder of Red Granite (and stepson of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, at the center of the scandal) and Jho Low, a Malaysian financier and close associate of Aziz and prime minister Razak and believed to be among the chief architects of the 1MDB fund, which was ostensibly set up to drive investment into Malaysia.
Aziz reportedly owns a 11,000-square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills, bought for more than $17.5 million, and a $33.5 million duplex in New York's Park Laurel tower overlooking Central Park. Both of these properties were already under investigation by the FBI, which was looking into whether they were acquired using misappropriated 1MDB funds, and were both initially acquired by Low (before being sold to Aziz via a shell company).
Even more valuable, however, are the assets of Low, who after announcing himself on the scene in the U.S. at the turn of the decade with a series of notorious celebrity and champagne-soaked million-dollar parties, is now believed to be living between Taiwan and Shanghai, avoiding extradition to either the U.S. or Malaysia.
The flamboyant businessman owns a penthouse apartment in Manhattan's Time Warner Center, formerly home to Jay-Z and Beyonce, which he bought for $31 million in cash in 2011. He also reportedly paid $39 million for the famed final home of Ricardo Montalban in the exclusive Bird Streets neighborhood of the Hollywood Hills, near Leonardo DiCaprio.
Reportedly Low introduced DiCaprio to Aziz and his Red Granite co-founder Joey McFarland, with the budding filmmakers establishing the company to finance and produce his passion project The Wolf of Wall Street. The film – which would earn almost $400 million globally – was in turnaround at Warner Bros in 2010. While it was previously believed that no other studio was willing to take the risk on such an expensive, R-rated movie, THR has learned that there were actually several interested parties. Eventually, upstart Red Granite was chosen, with sources saying this was due to Low and DiCaprio's close relationship. DiCaprio would be paid $25 million to appear in the film, and is thought to have earned much more as a producer.
Aside from property, Low is also the man behind some of the world's most extravagant art purchases in recent years.
In his collection is a rare original poster for the 1927 classic Metropolis, which cost $1 million and is now believed to be hanging in Red Granite's offices on Sunset Boulevard (in the same building as DiCaprio's Appian Way). Another iconic item is Marlon Brando's best actor Oscar statuette for On the Waterfront, bought for a reported $600,000 and given as a birthday present to DiCaprio.
DiCaprio was also the recipient of a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture, which Low donated to his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and was auctioned off at the actor's annual St. Tropez gala last year, a glitzy event that raised some $40 million for the charity. It is unknown whether Low has donated any items to the foundation's 2016 fundraiser, due to take place on the French Riviera Wednesday evening.
But even splashier were purchases of some of the finest modern artworks of the 20th century, including Jean-Michel Basquiat's 1982 painting "Dustheads," bought for a then record-breaking $48.8 million in 2013. Other buys – including works by Picasso, Monet and Gerhard Richter – saw him named one of ARTnews magazine's 'Top 200 Collectors'.
Through his Hong Kong-based Jynwel Capital fund, Low also owns stakes in several international companies, most notably EMI Asia, in which he serves as a non-executive chairman. Jynwel was reported to be the majority backer of an investment consortium that purchased New York's Helmsley Park Lane Hotel for $660 million in 2013. However, it is thought to have sold its stake earlier this year.
In Hollywood, however, eyes will no doubt be looking to the future for Red Granite's upcoming slate following Wednesday's filing.
The company was actively selling its latest projects from a yacht in Cannes this year, most notably Papillon, the Charlie Hunnam-starring big-budget remake of the 1973 classic. THR has learned that the project is about to start shooting in Serbia, Montenegro and Thailand. There's also The General, the long-gestating George Washington biopic, which sources said was being pitched to buyers in Cannes as another DiCaprio vehicle (although Red Granite denied the reports).
Papillon producers Roger Corbi and Yan Fischer-Romanovsky, who took their project to Red Granite before The Wolf of Wall Street, previously told THR that they had been assured by the company's lawyers that the film wouldn't be affected.
A Red Granite spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.