KUALA LUMPUR (March 2): Hollywood celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio and Kim Kardashian were questioned by US Inland Revenue Service investigators and Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors in relation to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) embezzlement probe.
In a report on Thursday (March 2), Bloomberg Businessweek said that in April 2018, DiCaprio recounted to the agents that his relationship with fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) began at a nightclub.
He’d been told that Jho Low’s money came from an unknown “whale of whales” in Abu Dhabi, he said, and that Jho Low was the “Mozart of the business world”.
Bloomberg Businessweek said Jho Low’s connection to DiCaprio and other celebrities had come under renewed scrutiny as prosecutors prepared for the criminal trial of hip-hop legend Prakazrel “Pras” Michél, a member of the Fugees.
Michél stands accused of directing foreign money into Barack Obama’s 2012 US presidential campaign, and lobbying on behalf of Jho Low and the Chinese government.
Among the bright lights on Michél’s potential witness list are DiCaprio, Obama, former US president Donald Trump and hotel magnate Steve Wynn.
Previously undisclosed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) documents reviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek offer a deeper accounting of those deals, and show how federal agents squeezed celebrities and their handlers for information on Jho Low.
Kardashian, for instance, told the FBI in February 2019 how she’d met Jho Low and partied with him in Las Vegas. He’d given her fiancé at the time, NBA journeyman Kris Humphries, US$100,000 for fireworks at their 2011 wedding.
Years later, he offered her a work by Basquiat, prompting her then husband, Kanye West, to ask for a Monet — “to mess with [Jho] Low because both Kardashian and West found [Jho] Low to be very fickle when giving gifts, and never expected to actually receive a painting”, the agents wrote.
Bloomberg Businessweek said a representative of DiCaprio declined to comment. Representatives of Kardashian, Humphries and West didn’t respond to detailed messages seeking comments.
Kardashian also recounted an unusual money transfer.
According to the FBI summary of her interview, she and others — including Wolf of Wall Street co-producers Riza Aziz and Joey McFarland — were at a casino in Las Vegas with Jho Low.
The group played baccarat in a private room. At 5am, Kardashian was ready to leave, but a friend told her to drink some coffee and stick around, because he’d “heard stories of Jho Low giving people chips at the end of the night”.
As the gamblers screamed “monkey” (baccarat lingo that basically means “I need a 10 or face card”), Kardashian called out which bets to make and won a big hand.
She tried to turn the winnings over to Jho Low, but he told her to keep the chips, by then worth US$350,000. She told the FBI that when she went to the casino counter to cash out, she was handed US$250,000 in “a trash bag full of one hundred dollar bills”.
“Kardashian put the trash bag full of cash in her carry-on bag, and boarded a Southwest Airlines flight back to Los Angeles,” the FBI agents wrote, adding that she collected the other US$100,000, again in a trash bag full of cash, during a later trip to party with Jho Low in Las Vegas.
The report added that DiCaprio told the FBI he wasn’t exactly sure where Jho Low’s wealth came from.
During the interview, they pressed DiCaprio on when he became aware of the growing suspicions surrounding Jho Low. “DiCaprio lives in a world of rumours,” they recounted, “so he did not take any of them seriously, until the main negative news stories about Jho Low came out and his team told him it was now serious.”
And as news stories began to emerge about Jho Low and 1MDB in 2015, something else fractured the relationship. DiCaprio was planning a fundraiser in Saint-Tropez, France for his foundation.
Jho Low promised to donate a piece by the artist Roy Lichtenstein. As the deadline drew near, the piece still hadn’t shown up. Jho Low promised it would be there, but it never arrived. DiCaprio had to pull it from the auction. “DiCaprio started to distance himself from Jho Low after this,” the agents wrote. “He was embarrassed.”
The report said during a meeting with prosecutors and FBI agents, DiCaprio’s attorneys asked the DOJ to “take all steps possible to minimise DiCaprio’s connection to any upcoming forfeiture complaints the government may file”.