Leonardo DiCaprio, the award-winning actor, testified in a federal court on Monday, April 4, 2023, as a witness in a trial involving international money laundering, bribery, and a prominent rap artist. The trial involves accusations against Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, a founding member of the 1990s hip-hop group The Fugees. Michel is accused of funnelling money from a fugitive Malaysian financier named Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, through straw donors to Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Later, in 2017, prosecutors claim Michel attempted to halt an investigation into the same financier under former President Donald Trump’s administration.
Background of the Case
Low Taek Jho is accused of masterminding an international money laundering and bribery scheme that embezzled billions from the Malaysian state investment fund known as 1MDB. DiCaprio’s connection with the case comes from his relationship with Low, who was one of the primary financiers of DiCaprio’s movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Low is currently a fugitive but has maintained his innocence.
Michel as a Conduit for Low’s Pilfered Millions
Prosecutors allege that Michel became a conduit for Low’s pilfered millions and his attempts to influence the U.S. government. From June to November 2012, Low directed more than $21.6 million to be moved from foreign entities to Michel’s accounts in order to funnel money into the 2012 presidential election, according to the charges. Michel then paid about 20 straw donors and conduits so they could make the donations in their names and conceal where the money actually came from, according to the indictment.
DiCaprio’s Relationship with Low and Michel
DiCaprio testified that he met and befriended Low at a birthday party in Las Vegas in 2010. At that time, he understood Low to be a successful businessman with many different connections in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia. DiCaprio also said that he had known Michel since the 1990s when they met backstage after a Fugees concert.
Low was known for hosting lavish, star-studded parties and group vacations on his private jet to events like the World Cup in Brazil. DiCaprio recounted one particular junket that involved flying to Australia to celebrate New Year’s Eve, then flying to Las Vegas to celebrate a second time in one day. Michel was present on some of these trips, DiCaprio said.
Low became a regular contributor to DiCaprio’s charitable foundation, and eventually Low floated the idea of providing the primary financing for “The Wolf of Wall Street.” DiCaprio said he had Low’s funding and legitimacy carefully vetted before entering into a business relationship.
DiCaprio’s Testimony on Low’s Intentions to Make a Large Contribution
During the trial, DiCaprio recalled a “casual conversation” with Low in which Low told him he intended to make a large contribution to Obama’s reelection campaign. He stated that the contribution was a significant sum, estimated at $20-30 million. DiCaprio expressed his surprise, saying, “Wow, that’s a lot of money!”