As part of the ongoing money-laundering probe of Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB, which is perhaps best known for Goldman's enabling and participation in what may end up being one of the world's biggest, multi-billion, cross-border embezzlement schemes, on Thursday the DOJ moved to seize a Picasso and Basquiat paintings given to Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as rights to two Hollywood comedies, in complaints filed to recover about $540 million they say was "stolen" from 1MDB (with Goldman's help).
The DOJ filing was the latest in a long series of legal actions tied to money laundering at the fund set up by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 - who still remains in power - to promote economic development. In the complaint filed overnight, the department alleged that more than $4.5 billion was taken from 1MDB by high-level fund officials and their associates. Fraud allegations against 1MDB go back to 2009 and the fund is subject to money laundering investigations in at least six countries, including Switzerland and Singapore.
"This money financed the lavish lifestyles of the alleged co-conspirators at the expense and detriment of the Malaysian people," Kenneth Blanco, acting assistant AG said in a statement. The name of Goldman Sachs, which participated and directly profited from many of the 1MDB transactions, was oddly missing from today's filing.
Najib has denied taking money from 1MDB or any other entity for personal gain, after it was reported that investigators traced nearly $700 million to bank accounts that were allegedly in his name.
And while we won't hold our breath to learn why Goldman's involvement was mysteriously dropped, Reuters reported that Leonardo DiCaprio has turned over an Oscar won by Marlon Brando to U.S. investigators probing the 1MDB money laundering. DiCaprio also initiated the return of other, unidentified items that the actor said he accepted as gifts for a charity auction and which originated from people connected to the 1MDB wealth fund, they said in a statement.
Some background: last July, the Red Granite Hollywood production company was accused by the DOJ of using $100 million that prosecutors said had been diverted from the 1MDB fund to finance DiCaprio's 2013 film "The Wolf of Wall Street." Last October, DiCaprio said he was cooperating with the probe and would return any gifts or donations if they were found to have come from questionable sources.
"Mr. DiCaprio initiated return of these items, which were received and accepted by him for the purpose of being included in an annual charity auction to benefit his eponymous foundation," Thursday's statement said. "He has also returned an Oscar originally won by Marlon Brando, which was given to Mr. DiCaprio as a set gift by Red Granite to thank him for his work on 'The Wolf of Wall Street,'" the statement added.
Authorities also accused Jho Low, a Malaysian financier, of laundering more than $400 million stolen from the fund through an account in the United States, where he and his friends used the money to pay for lavish parties, gambling and yachts. Despite the civil allegations, U.S. authorities have not charged Low with any crime. The DOJ said that in 2014 Low used $3.2 million diverted from a 1MDB bond sale to buy a Picasso painting for DiCaprio. "Dear Leonardo DiCaprio, Happy belated Birthday! This gift is for you," a friend of Low's wrote in a note.
Low also used $9.2 million diverted from 1MDB bond sales to buy a collage made by the New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat which was also given to DiCaprio. DiCaprio and Low signed a note in March 2014 absolving the star of "any liability whatsoever resulting directly or indirectly from these art-work," according to the filings.
It was not clear from DiCaprio's statement whether he had already returned the Picasso and Basquiat paintings, and a Diane Arbus photograph that was also listed in the DOJ legal filing.
Separately, the DOJ filing also sought to seize the assets of two other Red Granite produced films which investigators allege were financed by money from the 1MDB fund - the 2014 comedy "Dumb and Dumber To" starring Jim Carrey, and 2015 comedy "Daddy's Home" starring Will Ferrell. Last year, the DOJ also tried to seize the rights to "The Wolf of Wall Street" although the LA-based Red Granite Pictures said in a statement on Thursday it was "actively engaged in discussions with the Justice Department aimed at resolving these civil cases and is fully cooperating."