‘Wolf Of Wall Street’ Was Allegedly Produced With Money Stolen From A Malaysian Economic Development Fund
In a story fit for Hollywood, a producer of The Wolf of Wall Street was named in a corruption scandal involving allegedly stolen money from Malaysia. The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it filed a complaint to seize $1 billion of assets it claims were bought by Riza Aziz, the CEO of Red Granite Pictures and the stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, with money taken from a Malaysian economic development fund. Razak wasn’t named in the court filings, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, but references to “Malaysian Official 1,” who the documents say received hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly funneled from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund, imply his potential involvement. Red Granite Pictures has denied that it took any illegal funds.
Investigators allege more than $3.5 billion was taken from 1MDB between 2009 and 2013 and shell companies were used to move the money around. The assets the Justice Department sought to seize include the rights to The Wolf of Wall Street, high-end real estate in New York City, Los Angeles and London, artwork by Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, and a jet.
This is the largest kleptocracy case the U.S. government has ever pursued. “The Department of Justice will not allow the American financial system to be used as a conduit for corruption,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a press release Wednesday.
The government claims some of the 1MDB money was used to produce The Wolf of Wall Street, which depicts a corrupt stockbroker trying to hide illegal profits in a foreign safe haven. “According to the allegations in the complaints, this is a case where life imitated art,” Assistant Attorney General Caldwell said in the same press release. “But whether corrupt officials try to hide stolen assets across international borders – or behind the silver screen – the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that there is no safe haven.”
Red Granite pictures denied that it took any illicit money, saying in a statement sent to The Frisky:
“To Red Granite’s knowledge, 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. Red Granite continues to cooperate fully with all inquiries and is confident that when the facts come out, it will be clear that Riza Aziz and Red Granite did nothing wrong. Red Granite does not expect the lawsuit – which is limited to future proceeds generated by a single film, and which was not filed against Red Granite or any of its employees – to impact its day to day operations, and the company continues to move forward with exciting new projects.”
When real estate, companies, art work, or really anything is bought with stolen money, the U.S. government can legally seize it, which is exactly what it’s doing. If the investigation concludes that Aziz did in fact use misappropriated funds to produce the film, the government will own the rights to The Wolf of Wall Street and seek to seize all future revenues it generates.
The FBI’s International Corruption Unit and the IRS-CI investigated the case before the civil forfeiture complaint was filed, as well as investigations by agencies in Switzerland and Singapore, where bank accounts were allegedly used to hide the money.