Leonardo DiCaprio may have received some very expensive paintings in a super shady way.
According to artnet, DiCaprio, a known art collector, is reportedly in the process of surrendering a $3.2 million Pablo Picasso painting and a $9 million Jean-Michel Basquiat collage to U.S. authorities in the wake of a huge embezzlement scandal.
Red Granite — the company that produced DiCaprio’s movie The Wolf of Wall Street — was co-founded by Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, and reportedly received illicit financing from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund (also known as 1MDB fund). The fund was initially created for the purposes of economic development, but now allegedly has a hand in less noble dealings.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s anti-money-laundering division filed a 250-page complaint seeking the surrender of $540 million in assets that it says were bought with money stolen from the 1MDB fund and entities it controlled, reports artnet. These assets include $100 million worth of art, a luxury yacht, and real estate. In addition to the art, the U.S. government previously sought civil forfeiture of “any rights to profits, royalties, and distribution proceeds” related to The Wolf of Wall Street.
But how is Leo directly involved?
Malaysian financier, art collector, and associate of DiCaprio’s, Jho Low, had influence over the corrupt 1MDB fund and has been the subject of investigation for misuse of money before. The government has reason to believe that DiCaprio’s Picasso painting, Nature morte au crâne de taureau, was a gift from Low.
In a statement, DiCaprio’s spokesperson explains:
Prior to the government’s filing of the civil pleading today, 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. 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. Mr. DiCaprio is grateful for the support of the government in this effort, and continues to hope that justice is done in this matter.
However, the claim that the painting was received for charitable purposes conflicts with the note attached to the painting that read, "Dear Leonardo DiCaprio: Happy belated Birthday! This gift is for you.”
The Basquiat painting, Redman One, was reportedly bought from the Helly Nahmad gallery in New York in March 2013 with funds controlled by an entity known as Tanore, also believed to have been controlled by Low. According to the complaint, Low instructed a gallery in Switzerland as follows:
Please transfer the below work to the account of [DiCaprio]. I shall have no further claims on any ownership of the below-artworks and indemnify [DiCaprio] from any liability whatsoever resulting directly or indirectly from these art-work.
The letter was signed by both Low and DiCaprio.
Although it seems as if DiCaprio is suddenly under fire for owning these priceless works of art, his spokesperson told artnet,
Last July, upon hearing of the government’s civil action against certain parties involved in the making of The Wolf of Wall Street, Mr. DiCaprio’s representatives—working under his instruction—initiated contact with the Department of Justice. This effort was to determine if there were any gifts or charitable donations originating from the parties named in the civil complaint, and to offer the return of any such gifts or donations with the aid and instruction of the government.
It looks like America’s sweetheart may have a real-life Jordan Belfort problem on his hands. But who need a priceless Picasso anyway?