HOLLYWOOD actor Leonardo DiCaprio has testified at a US federal court trial involving claims of international money laundering and illegal political donations.
The Oscar-winning star of films including Titanic, Catch Me If You Can and The Revenant is a witness in the case against Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, a founding member of the 1990s hip-hop group Fugees.
Michel, 50, is on trial over his alleged connection to Jho Low, the fugitive financier who is accused of orchestrating a scheme to steal more than $4.5 billion from a Malaysian development fund. Low, a Malaysian, is believed to be in China and has so far avoided prosecution for the so-called 1MDB scandal.
Low was a regular contributor to DiCaprio’s charitable foundation and eventually provided the primary funding for The Wolf of Wall Street. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film was viewed as a risky project by Hollywood studios.
DiCaprio testified that before accepting the money he had the funding and Low’s legitimacy carefully vetted. “I was given the green light by my team as well as my studio,” he said. “He was a legitimate business person wanting to invest in the movie.”
DiCaprio also recalled a “casual conversation” with Low in which the financier told him he wanted to make a large donation to the Obama campaign. “It was a significant sum — something to the tune of $20-30 million,” DiCaprio testified. “I said, ‘Wow that’s a lot of money!’ ”
DiCaprio, 48, is not accused of any crime and his involvement in the case stems from his relationship with Low, a primary financier on the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street.
Michel allegedly funnelled money from Low through straw donors to Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Low, as a foreigner, was not allowed to make political donations. Prosecutors also say that Michel later tried to hinder an investigation into Low under the Trump administration. Michel denies all wrongdoing.
The actor told a federal court in Washington that he had met Low at a birthday party in Las Vegas in 2010. “I understood him to be a huge businessman with many different connections in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia,” DiCaprio said. He added that he had known Michel since the 1990s when they met backstage at a Fugees concert.
Low was known for throwing lavish parties and group getaways including jaunts to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
DiCaprio recalled one junket that involved flying to Australia to celebrate New Year’s Eve, then flying to Las Vegas to celebrate it a second time in one day. Michel was present on some of these trips, DiCaprio said.
The trial continues.