The US Department of Justice is seeking to recover about $2 billion in assets misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund in a scandal with ties to the Malaysian prime minister's stepson and US actor Leonardo DiCaprio, among other notable figures.
The DoJ issued a statement on June 15 explaining it was seeking a further US$540 million out of the total amount, which built on initial civil forfeiture complaints filed in July 2016. It described the misappropriated assets as an "international conspiracy" pertaining to the handling of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Acting US Attorney Sandra Brown explained: "These cases involve billions of dollars that should have been used to help the people of Malaysia, but instead was used by a small number of individuals to fuel their astonishing greed."
"The misappropriation of 1MDB funds was accomplished with an extravagant web of lies and bogus transactions that were brought to light by the dedicated attorneys and law enforcement agents who continue to work on this matter. We simply will not allow the United States to be a place where corrupt individuals can expect to hide assets and lavishly spend money that should be used for the benefit of citizens of other nations," Brown said.
The DoJ said 1MDB funds had been diverted to offshore shell entities to fund, among other things, a 300-foot luxury yacht, international real estate, jewellery, artwork and "certain movie rights."
DiCaprio's involvement stems from that last point: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's stepson, Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, co-founded production company Red Granite Pictures, which co-financed the 2013 Jordan Belfort biopic The Wolf of Wall Street. When news of the scandal broke, a spokesperson for DiCaprio announced he would return any gifts or donations directly or indirectly related to the parties mentioned by the DoJ, including Aziz and Jynwel Capital chief executive Jho Low.
The DoJ has alleged that The Wolf of Wall Street itself was partially funded with money embezzled from 1MDB.
Back in July, former US Attorney General Lorreta Lynch explained: "The associates of these corrupt 1MDB officials are alleged to have used some of the illicit proceeds of their fraud scheme to fund the production of The Wolf of Wall Street, a movie about a corrupt stockbroker who tried to hide his own illicit profits in a perceived foreign safe haven. 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."
DiCaprio's spokesperson said at the time: "[DiCaprio] immediately had his representatives reach out to the Department of Justice to determine whether he or his foundation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF), ever received any gifts or charitable donations directly or indirectly related to these parties, and if so, to return those gifts or donations as soon as possible. All contact was initiated by Mr DiCaprio and LDF," the spokesperson said at the time.
"Both Mr DiCaprio and LDF continue to be entirely supportive of all efforts to assure that justice is done in this matter. Mr DiCaprio is grateful for the lead and instruction of the government on how to accomplish this."
1MDB issued its own statement last week, acknowledging the DoJ's civil lawsuit and highlighting that "it is not a party to the civil lawsuit nor has it been contacted by the DoJ in relation to this matter."
"1MDB notes that the civil lawsuit does not contain any appendices with documentary proof or witness statements to support the allegations made by the DoJ. As previously stated, 1MDB will fully co-operate with any foreign lawful authority, subject to international protocols governing such matters and the advice of the relevant domestic lawful authorities," 1MDB said.