Pressure Mounts on DiCaprio to Return ‘Ill-Gotten’ Foundation Donations
As Hollywood A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio unveiled his climate change documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, the actor faced increased calls from activists to return donations given to his environmental-focused Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation that have been linked in news reports to funds allegedly misappropriated in the world’s largest embezzlement scheme.
An August exposé in the Hollywood Reporter alleged that some donations to DiCaprio’s foundation came directly from funds siphoned from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB — itself the subject of an international embezzlement investigation — that had been earmarked for development in the Southeast Asian country.
According to a Department of Justice complaint, funds misappropriated from 1MDB were alleged to have been used to purchase lavish gifts that were then auctioned off by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation during its annual environmental gala in St. Tropez, France. The DOJ complaint further alleged that Red Granite Pictures — a production company co-founded by the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s stepson, Riza Aziz — used $238 million of 1MDB money to fund production on the 2013 Martin Scorsese-directed film The Wolf of Wall Street, for which DiCaprio won a Golden Globe.
On Saturday — as DiCaprio premiered his climate change documentary Before the Flood at TIFF — Peter Kallang, of environmental advocacy organization Save Rivers, called on the actor to return any questionable donations his foundation may have received from billionaire businessman Jho Low and Aziz, two of the central figures in the 1MDB investigation.
“In keeping the ill-gotten money, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is acting in complete contradiction to its mission statement, which is to be ‘dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants… while restoring balance to threatened ecosystems and communities,” Kallang said in a statement, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“The money should thus be returned to the people of Malaysia to stop the massive destruction to the environment and ecosystem from land developments and pollution,” Kallang added.
On Monday, Malaysian attorney and human rights advocate Ambiga Sreenevasan penned an open letter to DiCaprio similarly urging the actor to return the questionable donations.
“Imagine our shock — and embarrassment — to learn that a man whom we admire and respect is connected with the heist of the decade that has undermined the [Malaysian] people in so many ways,” Sreenevasan wrote, according to THR. “We know that apart from being a wonderful actor, you are deeply concerned about humanitarian and social issues. How then can you remain silent in the face of this travesty?”
The attorney also challenged DiCaprio to travel to Malaysia to see “how massive corruption has destroyed so much in our country.”
In August, Swiss-based environmental advocacy organization Bruno Manser Funds became the first organization to publicly request DiCaprio return what its executive director Lukas Straumann called “dirty money.”
“Money was stolen from the treasury and went straight into Leo’s pocket,” Straumann told the Hollywood Reporter last month. “That is dirty money, and he should pay it back.”
DiCaprio’s Before the Flood follows the actor as he travels the world to examine the effects of global warming firsthand, meeting with dignitaries including President Obama, John Kerry and Pope Francis along the way.
“We are truly at a turning point in history,” DiCaprio told the Associated Press at the film’s premiere, calling climate change “the largest crisis we’ve ever faced.”
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum