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DiCaprio: Jho Low wanted to make 'significant contribution' to Democrats in 2012

Bloomberg • 4 min read
DiCaprio: Jho Low wanted to make 'significant contribution' to Democrats in 2012
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Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio testified Monday at the trial of Grammy-winning rapper Pras Michel, where the actor discussed his party-fueled relationship with fugitive financier Jho Low, who underwrote the actor’s 2013 smash movie, The Wolf of Wall Street.

Michel is charged with joining a back-channel campaign to lobby the administration of President Donald Trump to drop an investigation of Low, who’s accused of embezzling billions of dollars from Malaysian development fund 1MDB. Low, who was indicted with Michel and is considered a fugitive, lavished gifts on DiCaprio after they met in 2010, prosecutors say.

DiCaprio, who wore a dark suit, light shirt and skinny dark necktie, said he met Low at a party and they bonded over several years and on trips. He recounted one New Year’s Eve when they celebrated in Australia and then flew on a private jet to do it all over again in Las Vegas.

“I understood him to be a huge businessman with many different connections in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia,” DiCaprio told jurors in federal court in Washington. “He was sort of a prodigy in the business world.”

Michel, a member of the hip-hop group the Fugees, is accused of other illegal schemes beyond the Low lobbying. He’s charged with acting as an unregistered agent of China to get Trump to extradite Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, a vocal critic of Beijing with ties to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. He’s also accused of funneling Low’s money into Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign.

DiCaprio fielded questions from the government in a packed courtroom. “At the risk of asking a stupid question, what do you do for a living?” asked prosecutor Nicole Lockhart. “I am an actor,” said DiCaprio, who has starred in more than two dozen movies including Titanic, Catch Me If You Can and The Revenant, for which he won an Oscar.

See also: Goldman sues Malaysia as 1MDB settlement dispute escalates

DiCaprio, who acknowledged he considered Michel a friend, said he met the rapper and members of his music group backstage during a concert in the 1990s, and that he’d hung out with Michel on trips and at parties with Low. But the actor’s testimony was almost entirely about Low.

On questioning from Lockhart, DiCaprio said Low told him he and potentially other partners intended to give a “significant contribution” to the Democratic Party in 2012, perhaps as much as US$20 million or US$30 million.

‘A lot of money’

See also: Ex-Goldman banker Ng in Malaysia for 1MDB probe, according to a report

“I responded, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money,”’ said DiCaprio, who spoke slowly and squinted his eyes when concentrating on the questions. The judge asked him to speak up a few times.

The Justice Department has said Low financed Wolf of Wall Street, which depicts DiCaprio as a crooked stock trader, with US$100 million stolen from 1MDB. On questioning by Michel’s attorney, David Kenner, DiCaprio said his company vetted Jho Low before striking any business deals.

“From my understanding, I was given a green light from my team as well as the studio to accept financing from Mr. Low,” said DiCaprio, who testified for more than an hour.

Kenner asked DiCaprio about a birthday party where “Britney Spears jumped out of a birthday cake to sing him happy birthday.” Prosecutors objected that the question was irrelevant, and US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly refused to let him answer.

In her opening statement last week, US prosecutor Lockhart portrayed Michel as desperate for money after his success in the 1990s faded. She described Low and Michel as a perfect match.

“Low wanted to buy his way into high places,” Lockhart said. “Michel was willing to help Low along the way as long as he got paid.”

Michel made almost US$88 million from the campaign-finance and illegal lobbying schemes, according to the government.

After news emerged about the 1MDB scandal, DiCaprio began to distance himself from Low. A year after DiCaprio met with the FBI, his lawyers forfeited some gifts from Low, including a first edition of The Great Gatsby and the Oscar statuette Marlon Brando won for On the Waterfront.

Michel’s defense attorneys have denied the government’s allegations, explaining that their client forged international relationships, like the one with Low, to win investments for entertainment projects that promote Black capitalism. They argued that Michel was acting in “America’s best interests” when he advocated for Guo’s return in exchange for American hostages and that he was unaware of requirements to register as a foreign agent.

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