Actor Leonardo DiCaprio told a Washington jury on Monday (Apr 3) that Malaysian financier Jho Low revealed his plans to donate up to US$30 million to help US President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign in what prosecutors allege was part of an illegal foreign influence operation.
“It was a casual conversation about what party he was in support of,” DiCaprio said, telling jurors that Low said he planned on giving “a significant donation” to the Democratic Party that was “somewhere to the tune of US$20-30 million”.
“I basically said, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money,'” DiCaprio added.
The Titanic star took the witness stand in the trial of Prakazrel “Pras” Michel of the Fugees hip-hop group, who faces criminal charges for his alleged role in a foreign influence campaign aimed at the administrations of Obama and Donald Trump. Michel has denied the allegations.
DiCaprio is one of several prominent figures linked to Low, a fugitive who is facing separate federal criminal charges for allegedly embezzling US$4.5 billion from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.
The financier, who was known to pay Hollywood celebrities to party with him, supported DiCaprio’s charitable foundation and helped fund The Wolf of Wall Street, the 2013 movie in which DiCaprio starred and was nominated for an Oscar.
The Justice Department in 2018 reached a civil settlement with the film’s production company, which forfeited US$60 million that was believed to have been stolen from 1MDB, according to Reuters.
Since then, DiCaprio has been cooperating with the US government.
He managed to enter and leave the courthouse on Monday without being spotted by news crews who had been staking out his arrival.
Prosecutors claim Michel agreed to funnel money from Low into Obama’s 2012 campaign and hide the source of the funds. Federal election law prohibits foreigners from donating to US campaigns.
They say he later worked behind the scenes with others to try to persuade the Trump administration to stop investigating Low, and also acted as a foreign agent of China to persuade the administration to agree to repatriate dissident Guo Wengui.
DiCaprio on Monday told jurors he has known Michel since at least the 1990s, when he met the Fugees backstage.
The bulk of his testimony centered on his relationship with Low, who threw lavish parties on boats and at nightclubs that featured Hollywood stars.
DiCaprio said he flew on Low’s private jet with a large group one New Year’s Eve between Australia and Las Vegas, in what he said was Low’s goal of celebrating New Year’s twice in one night.
He drew laughter in the courtroom, as Michel’s attorney asked him whether Low achieved his objective.
“It depends on how you look at it,” DiCaprio said.
DiCaprio said when he first met Low around 2010, he viewed him as a “sort of a prodigy in the business world”.
DiCaprio said his own legal team, an outside firm and the studios conducted three separate due diligence probes before reaching a deal with Low to finance The Wolf of Wall Street.
“I was given a green light from my team, as well as the studios, to accept financing from Mr Low,” he said.