Almost three months after the U.S. Department of Justice connected Leonardo DiCaprio and his environmental charity to the multibillion dollar Malaysian corruption scandal, a spokesperson for the star has finally spoken out about the issue.
"Several months ago in July, Mr. DiCaprio first learned through press reports of the government's civil action against some of the parties involved in the making of The Wolf of Wall Street," a statement on Tuesday claimed.
"He immediately had his representatives reach out to the Department of Justice to determine whether he or his foundation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF), ever received any gifts or charitable donations directly or indirectly related to these parties, and if so, to return those gifts or donations as soon as possible. All contact was initiated by Mr DiCaprio and LDF."
The foundation is alleged to have received several million dollars in donations from money that had been diverted from the 1MDB Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, from which billions were laundered in the U.S.
At the actor's birthday party in 2013, the controversial Malaysian businessman Jho Low, a former close associate of DiCaprio's and now at the center of the DOJ investigation, together with Joey McFarland, the co-founder of Red Granite Pictures, which financed The Wolf of Wall Street, were among those who reportedly helped raise more than $3 million for the charity by buying marked-up bottles of champagne.
Earlier in 2013, diverted 1MDB funds were alleged by the DOJ complaint to have been used by Low to purchase a pair of artworks (for a total of $1.1 million) by Ed Ruscha and Mark Ryden at a Christie's auction benefiting the LDF (one of many buys during a spending spree that shook the art world). And at the glittering St. Tropez auction held in 2015, with the likes of David Geffen, Paul Allen, Tom Barrack and Harvey Weinstein in attendance, Low offered the LDF a sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein, 1982's "Brushstroke," valued at roughly $700,000.
There have been growing calls for DiCaprio to not just return the money that went into his foundation, but also his fees as star and producer on The Wolf of Wall Street, estimated to be more than $25 million. Last week, the Bruno Manser Fonds rainforest charity directly linked the corruption scandal with deforestation in Malaysia, saying that if DiCaprio did not return the money he should step down from his position as UN Messenger of Peace with a focus on climate change.
The statement from DiCaprio's camp added that the star and the charity were "entirely supportive of all efforts to assure that justice is done in this matter" and that the actor was "grateful for the lead and instruction of the government" on how to achieve this.
It concluded that DiCaprio's silence on the matter so far was "out of respect for its ongoing investigation, which has touched many charities, hospitals and individuals, who may have been unwitting recipients of funds now in question," confirming that he would "continue to limit his statements" on the matter.