Thursday, 21 July 2016

Scorcese film on corruption swept up in financial scandal


A small Hollywood studio behind Martin Scorcese's stinging movie about greed on Wall Street has been swept up in a multi-billion dollar financial scandal tied to the prime minister of Malaysia.

Red Granite Pictures, which produced "The Wolf of Wall Street," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was named on Wednesday in a federal complaint that alleges the studio took part in a money laundering scheme by an investment and development company called 1MDB.

The investment fund is owned by the government of Malaysia, whose prime minister Najib Razak has been implicated in the massive scandal.

Razak is the step-father of Riza Aziz, the co-founder of Red Granite Pictures, which came up with the more than $100 million needed to finance the film.

According to the 136-page civil complaint filed by the US Justice Department, between June 2012 and November 2012, an investment firm tied to 1MDB sent 238 million dollars to an account controlled by Aziz.

About $100 million of these funds were subsequently sent to a bank account linked to the production house and used to fund its operations, including "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Some of the money was also used for extravagant trips to Las Vegas where hundreds of thousands of dollars where spent gambling at the Venetian Casino, according to the complaint.

Among those who were invited to take part in a July 2012 gambling jaunt was "a lead actor in The Wolf of Wall Street" who won a Golden Globe for the movie, according to the complaint.

Although the court document does not name the actor, it is clearly referring to DiCaprio.

The actor won a Golden Globe in 2014 for his portrayal in the film of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who fleeced investors of millions of dollars before ending up in prison.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell told reporters on Thursday that all assets and rights to the movie would be seized as they stem from laundered money.

According to comScore, the movie made $392 million. It was nominated for five Academy Awards.

"Neither 1MDB or the Malaysian people saw a penny of profit from that film or the other assets purchased with funds syphoned from 1MDB," Caldwell said. "Instead, that money went to relatives and associates of the corrupt officials of 1MDB and others."

Officials at Red Granite Pictures, which was set up in 2010, had no immediate comment on the charges Wednesday.

A spokeswoman said a statement would be issued later in the day.

Red Granite Pictures has consistently denied any involvement in wrongdoing since news of the federal probe into 1MDB began circulating.

Apart from "The Wolf of Wall Street," the company has produced several other movies including "Dumb and Dumber To," "Horns" and "Friends With Kids."