DiCaprio tells D.C. jury of foreign mogul’s plan to fund Dems in 2012


“At the risk of asking a stupid question, what is it you do for a living?” prosecutor Nicole Lockhart asked after DiCaprio, 48, finished spelling his name for the court reporter.

“I am an actor,” DiCaprio replied nonchalantly.

To the uninitiated, the Hollywood heartthrob’s presence at the trial could seem almost as unlikely as the government’s central contention in the criminal prosecution: that Michel, a member of the hip hop trio the Fugees, took more than $80 million from a Malaysian businessperson, Jho Low, to support President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential bid and later to buy influence with President Donald Trump’s administration.

But Low was friendly with DiCaprio and Michel for years and ultimately became a major funder of DiCaprio’s 2013 film, “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

U.S. prosecutors later alleged that Low was the architect of a multibillion-dollar fraud scheme that looted Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund known as 1MDB. In 2016, the Justice Department sought to seize the future profits from the film, arguing that it was paid for with money stolen from 1MDB. The feds ultimately settled for a $60 million payout, which was passed on to Malaysia’s government.

DiCaprio spent a little over an hour on the witness stand, recounting a slew of “lavish” parties where he met Low.

“He had a multitude of different parties,” the actor and film producer said of Low, who remains at large and was recently convicted in absentia by a Kuwaiti court for the 1MDB fraud and sentenced to 10 years in prison. “Some of them were on boats. Some were at nightclubs, … dinners.”

DiCaprio said Low also became a generous donor to the actor’s charitable foundation, even donating art that was auctioned in Saint-Tropez, France.

The most politically and perhaps legally salient thing DiCaprio offered up Monday was that he had a discussion with Low prior to the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

“He mentioned in passing he and possibly a group of other partners of his were going to give a significant contribution to the Democratic Party,” DiCaprio testified. “I recall him saying a significant sum, something to the tune of $20 [million] to $30 million. … I said, wow, that’s a lot of money.”

Prosecutors allege that Low was not a U.S. citizen and lacked a U.S. green card, so he was not eligible to donate to U.S. political campaigns. It’s unclear who the “partners” were, if they existed, and whether they could donate legally.

The indictment in the case alleges that Low transferred over $21 million to the U.S. for use to back Obama in the 2012 presidential race and that Michel donated about $865,000 to the Obama campaign through straw donors and about $1 million to a super PAC supporting Obama. It’s unclear what became of the rest of the money.

A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on DiCaprio’s testimony.

Under cross-examination by Michel’s attorney David Kenner, DiCaprio offered even more illustrations of Low’s apparent wealth and extravagant spending. The defense attorney asked DiCaprio about a private-jet trip Low organized to Australia and then back to the U.S. about a decade ago in order to try to celebrate New Year’s Eve twice.

DiCaprio said he was hazy on the details but Low did have that goal.

“I remember a trip to Australia [with] a massive group of people,” he said. “I do remember [Low] saying that was an objective of his.”

DiCaprio said he wasn’t sure if the timing actually played out to usher in the new year twice. “It depends on how you look at it,” he quipped, prompting laughter from jurors and others in the court.

The prosecution objected to some of the repeated questions about over-the-top partying. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly declined to allow an answer to one defense question about Britney Spears jumping out of a birthday cake for Low at one of his blasts.

However, Kenner may have scored some points for his client Monday by detailing the extensive vetting DiCaprio’s lawyer, his production team and Paramount Pictures did of Low and others involved in funding “Wolf of Wall Street.” The defense attorney passed up his opportunity last week to give an opening statement in the case, but he appeared to be suggesting that it was unrealistic to expect Michel to know details about Low’s citizenship or his alleged misdeeds when more experienced vetters apparently missed any signs of trouble in his background.

“My understanding was I was given a green light by my team, as well as the studio, to accept financing from Mr. Low,” DiCaprio told the jury. He said he believed “the background check was fine and he was a legitimate businessperson.”

Lockhart attempted to rebut some of that testimony by getting DiCaprio to acknowledge that, while U.S. political donations from non-resident foreigners are unlawful, foreign funding for films is entirely legal.

The sixth-floor courtroom at the courthouse near the Capitol was not quite full as DiCaprio began testifying late Monday morning.

However, onlookers steadily crowded the gallery as word spread about the Hollywood star making an in-person appearance. Law clerks and even one veteran courtroom clerk for another judge were seen ducking in briefly to get a glimpse of the actor better known for occupying the bow of the “Titanic” than a federal courtroom witness stand.

Paparazzi who joined the usual coterie of network television cameras staking out Trump-related grand juries at the courthouse were disappointed, as DiCaprio was whisked in and out of the building without passing the phalanx of cameras at both of the public entrances.

In 2018, DiCaprio testified in the same building before a grand jury investigating Michel, but his appearance was not reported until later.

Jurors’ reactions to DiCaprio’s testimony were hard to assess because the judge has ordered people in the courtroom to wear masks, although witnesses, lawyers questioning them and the judge typically do not.

DiCaprio said he’d known Michel since he hit stardom in the 1990s as part of the Fugees and met the band backstage at a concert. The two have been social friends since, the actor said.

The judge’s masking policy caused a complication Monday after the prosecutor asked DiCaprio to point out Michel, who was wearing a black mask. After the actor struggled briefly, Michel raised his hand in the air and pointed at the ceiling, easing the task.

An unusual number of court personnel seemed to interact briefly with DiCaprio during a short break in the testimony, but the cause for the crowding became apparent after the actor was excused shortly after noon Monday. As soon as he departed, almost every observer stood to leave the courtroom, prompting an outbreak of laughter from the judge and some jurors at the spectacle.

#DiCaprio #tells #D.C #jury #foreign #moguls #plan #fund #Dems
( With inputs from : )


TheNewsCaravan News Desk

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button