Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio has appeared in court to testify in the trial of Prakazrel ‘Pras’ Michel, the former rapper from hip hop group Fugees. Michel stands accused of accepting over 100 million USD from Malaysian billionaire Low Taek Jho, known as Jho Low in exchange for attempting to influence US politicians, among other charges including conspiracy and witness tampering.
Leonardo DiCaprio Is Not Accused of Anything
The trial revolves around the 1MDB scandal, in which Low is accused of stealing billions from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund. This case is considered the biggest embezzlement case in history. Michel denies all charges against him.
Prosecutors allege that Michel was being paid to bring “secret, illegal foreign influence to bear” on US politics and that he made illegal contributions to Barack Obama’s 2012 US presidential campaign, using an illegal network of third parties who were paid with foreign funds.
It is also believed that Low intended to use Michel as a means of lobbying Trump administration officials to abandon their investigation into his alleged role in the 1MDB scheme. Despite both being charged in the case, Low is currently at large and believed to be in China, while Michel is appearing in court.
Leonardo DiCaprio, while not facing accusations of any wrongdoing, was called to testify about his connections to Low.
What is 1MDB Scandal?
It was a huge financial scam involving the misuse of billions of dollars from a government-run fund called 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) in Malaysia. The scandal reportedly began in 2009 when the fund was set up to invest in infrastructure projects and stimulate economic growth in Malaysia. However, over the years, it became clear that the fund was being used for personal gain by those in power.
It involved a complex web of financial transactions by high-ranking officials and their associates. The money was allegedly used to buy luxury properties, yachts, artwork, and other lavish items. The scandal came to light in 2015 when investigative journalists and opposition politicians began to uncover the corrupt practices.
As a result of the scandal, several high-profile individuals, including imprisoned former Malaysian PM Najib Razak, were charged with corruption and money laundering. The scandal also had far-reaching consequences for Malaysia’s economy, with the country’s credit rating being downgraded and investors losing confidence in the government.
The 1MDB scandal is considered to be one of the biggest financial scandals in history, with an estimated misappropriation of 4.5 billion USD.
The Wolf of Wall Street
According to reports, Low allegedly deployed his immense wealth to gain favour with big names like Leonardo DiCaprio and model Miranda Kerr. The investor also partially funded DiCaprio’s 2013 film Wolf of Wall Street, which centred on a notorious fraudster. Low’s extravagant parties attracted top celebrities like Alicia Keys, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears, who once leapt out of a cake to sing him a happy birthday.
On Monday, DiCaprio testified in a Washington DC court about his financial ties with the financier, who he met in 2010 at a Las Vegas party. Over the years, he attended numerous lavish events at the financier’s invitation, alongside other famous faces. At one event, DiCaprio and Low celebrated New Year’s twice, with socialites flying in from Australia to the US.
During his testimony, DiCaprio described the financier as a prodigy in the business world and “ultra-successful”.
Low was involved in auctions held by the actor’s environmentally-focused Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and also gave him pieces of artwork by Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat worth 3.2 million USD and 9.2 million USD respectively. However, DiCaprio reportedly later turned over that artwork to authorities.
Their relationship later involved discussions of US politics, with the investor expressing interest in donating between 20 and 30 million USD to the Democratic Party ahead of the 2012 presidential election. This was the time when then-President Barrack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were re-elected for the second term. However, authorities believe those funds were embezzled from 1MDB. Leo lost contact with Low in 2015 after learning about the investigations into his financial dealings.
Other celebrities, including Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Mark Wahlberg, and director Martin Scorsese, may also testify in the trial, which involves former high-level US government officials and political insiders.