A money laundering scandal that involves scummy Malaysian government officials is rocking Hollywood this month to its core. Federal investigators in the US are putting several A-list celebrities in their crosshairs who are connected to various seedy characters hailing from the southeast Asian nation.
Some of the top Hollywood talent that are being eyed by federal agents for trafficking in illegal money and gifts include Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Forest Whitaker. All of them may have received illegal cash and gifts from a scummy movie producer named Risa Aziz, according to media reports.
Aziz and his father, the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, along with another crooked associate, Jho Low, have been accused of stealing billions of dollars from taxpayers in Malaysia to pay for Aziz’s high on the hog lifestyle as well as his company Red Granite Pictures.
Red Granite was the producer of the 2013 DiCaprio film The Wolf of Wall Street, which was directed by Scorsese. That film also starred Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie.
The connection to the shady Malaysians has put all four celebrities in federal crosshairs. And there are other celebrities being looked at by the US Department of Justice who are trying to recover stolen funds that belong to the citizens of Malaysia.
Other Hollywood stars who could be mixed up in the money laundering and corruption probe include Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg and Jon Hamm.
Orlando Bloom’s ex-wife Miranda Kerr has also been caught up in the scandal. Kerr has been alleged to have received a 12-carat heart shaped diamond worth $1.3 million as a gift from Low.
The Department of Justice is going to great efforts to recover millions of dollars in illegal funds and gifts. Celebrities that are embroiled in the scandal could find themselves in very serious legal trouble. Legal experts say that if any A-listers are in possession of any illegal cash or gifts, the feds are going to seize it and keep it until they can determine who is the legal owner.
Plus, if any of the celebrities were aware that the money or gifts was from embezzled Malaysian funds, they could face federal charges including conspiracy, money laundering, and corruption. Of course, these celebrities will usually have several handlers and agents protecting them, but if there is a smoking gun email or telephone call, some of them could face legal problems.
Sources state that at least $3.5 billion has been stolen by a special Malaysian wealth fund that was established by the prime minister of Malaysia in 2009. The Department of Justice has filed several lawsuits to recover as much money as possible from the wealth fund. The purpose of that fund was to create investment and development projects for economic benefits for the Malaysian people.
Leo DiCaprio Facing Tough Fed Scrutiny
DiCaprio is one of the A-listers who is facing plenty of scrutiny from aggressive federal investigators. They maintain that he has enjoyed millions of dollars worth of gifts obtained with stolen Malaysian money.
Some of the gifts he is alleged to have received included a $3.2 million Picasso painting, which was a birthday gift. Another gift was a Jean Michel Basquiat collage that is worth at least $9 million. He also is believed to have received the best Oscar statue Marlon Brando received in 1954 for On the Waterfront.
Other celebrities that are being pursued in the money laundering federal probe are Daniel Radcliffe, who has appeared in various Harry Potter films, and Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph of Saturday Night Live fame.
DOJ Working to Recover $540 Million in Assets
Media reports state that the Department of Justice has been focusing on recovering $540 million of Malaysian assets that it says have been used to fund some of the illegal gifts to A-listers mentioned above. Malaysian officials are claiming however that there is no evidence that such crimes have happened.
The Malaysian PM for his part has denied any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the DOJ in the US maintains that billions has been stolen from the wealth fund named 1 MDB.
Celebrities Facing Money Laundering Charges
Money laundering is a very serious federal charge in the US that can lead to major jail time and financial penalties. It refers to any network of illegal business activities that are used to make illegal money appear to have come from legal business activities. Money laundering is one of the major activities of major criminal organizations.
Typically, a criminal organization will use a front business that looks legal to build a legal paper trail that makes the illegal cash look like it came from a legal business. The money can then be used for general purchases. It is very common for money laundering to involve other federal crimes: conspiracy, racketeering, and corruption.
Some of the most common types of money laundering activities that are recognized under federal law are:
- Representing the profits from any illegal act as legal and trying to conduct any type of financial transaction from the proceeds. The intent is to promote illegal activity and to conceal where the funds came from.
- Transferring, transmitting or transporting any money or goods in the US that are used to promote illegal activity, conceal the true nature of the proceeds and to avoid financial reporting mandates.
- Producing false representations about the criminal profits to effect any of the above outcomes.
It is not clear if any of the celebrities had any knowledge that the source of some of their gifts was illegally gotten. But if the feds can prove that this was the case, they could face serious penalties. The maximum sentence for any type of money laundering in the US is up to 20 years. The maximum fine is generally $500,000. But the fine can be changed to be up to twice the value of the current that was represented in the illegal actions.
The exact punishment for money laundering depends upon the nature of the crime. The sentence that is handed down is dictated by federal sentencing guidelines.