Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio took the stand Monday as the first successful witness in the star-studded trial of former Fugees member Brass Michel.
Michel is accused of participating in a global campaign finance conspiracy funded by Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman who allegedly stole billions of dollars from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. Michel pleaded not guilty.
DiCaprio, who reportedly testified before the grand jury that delivered Michelle’s indictment, is not charged with any wrongdoing.
Although both Michel and Lou face charges in the US, Lou is still at large, so Michel is on trial alone.
DiCaprio testified for about an hour about his affair with Law in an attempt by prosecutors to show that Law used the stolen money to curry favor with actors, models and politicians in the United States. It’s possible that prosecutors are using DiCaprio as a charismatic persona to explain the extent of the alleged Malaysian money scheme, as well as to bring star power that would trump even Michelle.
When government prosecutors called DiCaprio as a witness, several jurors who had looked bored during the previous witness snapped to attention. One juror’s head rose from her hands, while another looked around excitedly. A third juror softly clapped his hands together and leaned back in his seat.
DiCaprio entered the courtroom, dressed in a blue suit, surrounded by US Marshals. He spoke slowly during his testimony, and was sometimes so quiet that District Judge Colin Kollar-Kettle, presiding over the case, had to ask him to speak.
“At the risk of asking a stupid question, what do you do for a living,” prosecutor Nicole Lockhart told DiCaprio, and asked him to introduce himself.
DiCaprio replied, “I’m an actor.”
According to prosecutors, Law and DiCaprio were introduced by the stepson of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been indicted in Malaysia in connection with the 1MDB corruption scandal.
On Monday, DiCaprio told jurors about attending Law’s birthday party in Las Vegas around 2010, which was their first introduction. DiCaprio said he understood Low to be “kind of a prodigy in the business world and very successful.”
DiCaprio also said that he met Michelle in the 1990s and attended a Fugees concert. DiCaprio said that it is possible that Michelle attended the Thanksgiving meal at his house, but that “memory does not serve.”
When DiCaprio was asked to identify Michele in the courtroom, Michele leaned and waved to the actor.
DiCaprio testified that Lou and DiCaprio’s relationship was purely social at first, recounting “a great number of lavish parties” around the world, which Michel also allegedly attended. In one instance, DiCaprio said Low flew several celebrities to Australia on New Year’s Eve, then flew them back to Las Vegas in time to celebrate the New Year again.
“Are you back in time to party” once again in Las Vegas, Michelle’s attorney David Keener asked.
“It depends on how you look at it,” DiCaprio replied. The courtroom erupted in laughter.
DiCaprio told the jury that he spoke with Low in 2012 about the ongoing presidential election.
“It was a causal conversation about which party he supported, and I told him which party I supported,” said DiCaprio. “He told me that he, or he and a group, would make a significant contribution to the Democratic Party,” he said, noting that the donation was about $20 million or $30 million.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s a lot of money,'” DiCaprio said.
Prosecutors allege that the money was stolen from 1MDB, and that Michelle helped Low make the donations through a series of straw donors.
In his testimony, Law eventually offered to finance a film for DiCaprio. DiCaprio said DiCaprio’s lawyers, a production company, and a third party all ran background checks into Law and his finances, giving DiCaprio the go-ahead to make a deal with Law.
Prosecutors allege that Low laundered money from 1MDB through his Los Angeles-based film production company, Red Granite Pictures. Red Granite allegedly used some of the money laundered to finance movies, including DiCaprio’s 2013 movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.” DiCaprio thanked Lou by name while accepting his Golden Globe Award for his role in the film.
Law also testified to giving money to DiCaprio’s environmental foundation, by purchasing a painting at a fundraising event and making donations through other business entities.
DiCaprio testified that he stopped talking to Low around 2015, when his representatives discovered an article that alleged Low was using “illegal funding from Malaysia and many other places”.
In 2016, prosecutors moved to seize assets from The Wolf of Wall Street, as well as a Picasso painting that one of Law’s associates allegedly bought with stolen money and gifted to DiCaprio.
A spokesperson for DiCaprio previously told CNN that the actor is working with US attorneys general to return any money he or his charities received from 1MDB.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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