In perhaps the biggest attack on Leonardo DiCaprio's environmental credibility, a rainforest charity on Friday called on the actor to give up his title as UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change.
At a press conference in London, the Bruno Manser Funds offered DiCaprio an ultimatum: either renounce his connections to the "politically exposed persons" at the center of the multibillion-dollar 1MDB Malaysian corruption scandal now being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department and return corrupt money he allegedly received or resign from the position he was given by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in 2014.
"If DiCaprio is unwilling to come clean, we ask him to step down as UN Messenger for Peace for climate change, because he simply lacks the credibility for such an important role," said Lukas Straumann, director of the Switzerland-based charity, which has a particular focus on deforestation in Malaysia.
DiCaprio is alleged to have received millions of dollars diverted from the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund for his role as star and producer of The Wolf of Wall Street, alleged by the DOJ to have been funded by stolen Malaysian money and produced by Red Granite, co-founded by Riza Aziz, the stepson of the Malaysian prime minister and a major figure in a DOJ filing. He is also alleged to have received laundered 1MDB money for his charity, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, from his former close associate Jho Low, the controversial Malaysian businessman at the heart of the scandal.
At the press conference, entitled "Recovery of Stolen Malaysian Assets," a direct link was made between the 1MDB corruption scandal and major environmental issues in Malaysia, such as deforestation, one of the main concerns of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose online Sawarak Report has been investigating corruption in Malaysia for several years, said that one of 1MDB's first initiatives was to "pay off the chief minister of Sawarak," the Malaysian state on the vast island of Borneo where the 30-year rule of controversial governor Abdul Taib Mahmud has seen deforestation on a grand scale. "When I saw what 1MDB money had been plowed into, this notoriously corrupt timber baron, I was immediately suspicious," she said.
The press conference took place the morning DiCaprio was confirmed as attending the BFI London Film Festival for Saturday's European premiere of his environmental documentary Before the Flood. DiCaprio had been invited to talk at the press conference via an open letter from the Bruno Manser Funds, but didn't respond. A red chair and name plaque were present in his absence.
"We can't save the environment if we fail to stop corruption," said Straumann, who called DiCaprio's criticism of deforestation in the Indonesia-controlled parts of Borneo, "cynical hypocrisy."
"He needs to become part of the solution," he added. "But today he is part of the problem."
THR has reached out to DiCaprio's reps for comment.