2:42 AM PDT 8/9/2019
Riza Aziz faces 25 years in jail and millions of dollars in fines if found guilty of five charges in a scandal that has ensnared leading Hollywood figures.
The Wolf of Wall Street producer Riza Aziz is set to stand trial in early January in Malaysia on five charges of laundering around $250 million out of the country’s scandal-soaked 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.
Sessions Court Judge Rozina Ayob on Friday set tentative dates of Jan. 6 to 9 and Jan. 13 to 16 for the trial in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, adding another chapter to a tale that has seen the scandal reach from Southeast Asia all the way into Hollywood.
Aziz — the stepson of the now-disgraced former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak — set up the L.A.-based Red Granite Pictures with partner Joey McFarland in 2010. He stands accused of channeling the cash through accounts both in the U.S. (Red Granite Productions Inc.) and in Singapore (Red Granite Capital Ltd.) between 2010 and 2012.
The Malaysian producer faces up to 25 years in prison if found guilty of the charges and is currently out on bail.
Red Granite financed and produced a string of Hollywood movies, including Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace and Alexandre Aja’s Horns. But the company hit pay dirt with Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street staring Leonardo DiCaprio, which collected $392 million at the global box office.
Malaysian press reported Friday that Ayob had set the tentative schedule after first marking Sept. 20 down for next mentioning. He was then being pressed by senior deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram to give notice of suggested dates for commencement of the actual trial.
The DPP noted it would present “four or five” witnesses in the case — including one from Singapore — and then Ayob agreed with the prosecution’s suggested dates after hearing there was no plan to shift the case to the High Court.
The Malay Mail reported Sri Ram had told the judge the prosecution was still collecting relevant documents from the U.S.
In yet another twist in the 1MDB scandal Friday, criminal charges were laid against 17 current and former directors of three Goldman Sachs subsidiaries.
Investigations into the case were given renewed attention when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad came to power last year, and investigations have continued into the role Goldman played in the issuing of bonds for the fund, worth $6.5 billion.
Aziz had on July 5 pleaded not guilty to all five charges of money laundering, with prosecutors claiming he had used funds from Good Star Ltd. and Aabar Investments PJS Ltd., two entities with alleged links to fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low.
McFarland last month handed over a trove of gifts alleged to have been purchased via money stolen from 1MDB. These included vintage posters from Hollywood classics King Kong and Cool Hand Luke, a drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat, and a collection of luxury watches given to the producer by Low.
McFarland has told authorities he was unaware the gifts might have come from money stolen from the sovereign wealth fund.
Red Granite last year paid out $60 million to settle a claim that financing for Wolf of Wall Street had come from cash siphoned from 1MDB.
The Department of Justice had in July 2016 filed the largest forfeiture complaint in U.S. history, citing $1 billion of assets alleged to have been funded by the theft. Among the assets listed were Aziz’s mansion in Beverly Hills and Park Laurel condominium in New York; Low’s Hollywood Hills mansion and Time Warner Center apartment in Manhattan; plus all future profits from Wolf of Wall Street.
DiCaprio was dragged into the scandal when it was revealed Low had also lavished gifts on the Oscar-winner, among them a Pablo Picasso painting bought for $3.28 million, a photograph by Diane Arbus (bought for $750,000) and a Basquiat collage ($9,191,040). There was also the best actor Oscar won by Marlon Brando for his performance in On the Waterfront.
DiCaprio has voluntarily surrendered the items listed to the government.