The Wolf Of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio could benefit from 1MDB scandal

Leonardo DiCaprio, best actor nominee for his role in "The Wolf of Wall Street," arrives at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on March 2, 2014.
Leonardo DiCaprio, best actor nominee for his role in "The Wolf of Wall Street," arrives at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on March 2, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Actor Leonardo DiCaprio bought the movie rights for what would be The Wolf Of Wall Street back in 2007. But it was not until a little-known Hollywood production company came along six years later that the story of high-rolling fraudsters got off the ground.

On Wednesday (July 20), the Malaysian co-founder of that company, Red Granite Pictures, was accused in US civil lawsuits of using US$100 million (S$135 million) that was diverted from Malaysian state investor, 1Malaysia Deve1opment Berhad (1MDB), in a money laundering scheme to finance the film.

The lawsuits aim to seize the proceeds from the 2013 film.

Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring DiCaprio as convicted stockbroker Jordan Belfort, The Wolf Of Wall Street went on to make US$400 million at the worldwide box office, win five Oscar nominations, and a Golden Globe for the popular actor.

 

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Now back in the spotlight, the rollicking tale of drugs, sex and money laundering should make tens of millions of dollars more, industry analysts said.

"A film like Wolf Of Wall Street with DiCaprio and Scorsese is an evergreen property and it could easily make another US$100 million in the near future," said Mr Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations.

The renewed attention on the film won't hurt either. "All the talk just helps remind people about the movie," he said.

Mr Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for global media measurement company comScore, said it was the kind of movie that does well for years.

In a statement, Red Granite said that to its knowledge, none of the funding it received four years ago was illegitimate and that co-founder Riza Aziz and the company did nothing wrong. Mr Riza is the stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who oversaw the 1MDB fund.

The court papers mention "Hollywood Actor 1" and a source familiar with the matter said that referred to DiCaprio. It said he became associated with a Malaysian man named Jho Low, who distributed more than US$10 million to the production company using 1MDB money and later received a "special thanks" in the film credits.

The court papers said that in July 2012, Mr Low went gambling in Las Vegas with several others, including DiCaprio and a former 1MDB executive after Mr Low's account had been deposited with US$11 million from accounts used to launder 1MDB funds.

A DiCaprio publicist did not return requests for comment.

The movie's distributor, Paramount Pictures, did not return calls for comment, nor did director Scorsese.

Mr Riza and Los Angeles-based Red Granite Pictures were little known in Hollywood before putting up the bulk of the cash for The Wolf If Wall Street.

According to boxofficemojo.com, the film had a production budget of about US$100 million.

Red Granite had previously financed the 2011 indie film Friends With Kids. It has since helped produce or finance a handful of other movies including the comedies Dumb And Dumber To and Daddy's Home.

The company's website says its slate of films has brought in more than US$825 million worldwide at the box office since the company was founded in 2010.