Actor Leonardo DiCaprio has given testimony in the trial of former Fugees rapper Pras Michel, who has been accused of accepting over $100m from Malaysian businessman Jho Low to influence US politicians.
Michel faces charges of witness tampering, conspiracy, and other charges, while Low is alleged to have embezzled billions from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund in the 1MDB scheme.
Federal prosecutors say that Michel was paid to use illegal means to influence US politics with foreign funds. Michel is accused of making illegal contributions to Barack Obama’s 2012 US presidential campaign and setting up a network of third-party intermediaries to do the same, and prosecutors believe Low wanted Michel to lobby Trump administration officials to end their investigation into his alleged role in the 1MDB scheme.
Low is also facing charges in the case, but he is currently at large and believed to be in China. DiCaprio is not accused of any wrongdoing in the case and was called upon to testify about his ties to Low.
According to prosecutors, the tycoon Jho Low allegedly used his wealth to win the favor of celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio and model Miranda Kerr.
Low’s parties were also attended by Alicia Keys, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears, who famously jumped out of a cake to celebrate Low’s birthday.
During a court hearing in Washington DC on Monday, DiCaprio testified about his financial connections with Low. The actor, who described himself as “just an actor,” stated that he met Low at a party in Las Vegas in 2010 and subsequently attended numerous extravagant parties hosted by Low on yachts and in nightclubs, along with other famous people from the entertainment industry.
On one occasion, Mr DiCaprio attended a New Year’s Eve party in Australia with Mr Low, after which partygoers were flown to the US in an effort to celebrate New Year’s twice. The actor’s 2013 film Wolf of Wall Street – about a notorious fraudster – was partially funded by a firm tied to Mr Low.
“I understood him to be a huge businessman with many connections,” Mr DiCaprio said in court. “He was a prodigy in the business world and ultra-successful.”
US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly more than once asked the actor to “keep his voice up” so he could be heard by the jury and court reporter.
Mr Michel looked at the actor and waved when Mr DiCaprio was asked to identify him in court.
According to Bloomberg’s previous report, Mr. Low was notably generous towards Mr. DiCaprio, gifting him a $3.2m Picasso artwork for his charity and a $9.2m piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
However, Mr. DiCaprio apparently surrendered these items, along with others received from Mr. Low, to authorities.
On Monday, the actor revealed that Mr. Low also actively participated in auctions that he held in St. Tropez to raise funds for his environmentally focused foundation.
As their relationship progressed, Mr. DiCaprio claimed that they started discussing US politics and Mr. Low expressed a desire to make a significant contribution of $20m to $30m to the Democratic party prior to the 2012 presidential election.
“I basically said, ‘wow, that’s a lot of money’,” Mr DiCaprio said. Authorities believe those funds were embezzled from 1MDB.
Mr. DiCaprio’s testimony did not accuse Mr. Michel of any wrongdoing. He stated that he initially met Mr. Michel in the 1990s after a Fugees concert, and he could not confirm whether Mr. Michel attended a Thanksgiving party at his home.
In 2019, Mr. DiCaprio supposedly testified before a grand jury in Washington DC as part of the justice department’s investigation into the 1MDB scheme.
He mentioned that he lost contact with Mr. Low in 2015 after learning that he was being investigated for his financial activities. Other famous individuals, such as Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Mark Wahlberg, and Martin Scorsese, may testify in Pras Michel’s trial, according to CNN.
Furthermore, the wide-ranging case could include statements from former high-ranking US government officials and political insiders, including Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, and Rudy Giuliani, New York’s former mayor and one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers in the past.