FBI Documents Show Leonardo DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian Grilled for 1MDB Secrets

Inside the US government’s effort to unravel a giant financial fraud, with some help from the celebrities who got paintings and bags of cash via a friendly future fugitive named Jho Low.
Leonardo DiCaprio with his first Oscar award (Photo: AP)
Leonardo DiCaprio with his first Oscar award (Photo: AP)

Leonardo DiCaprio was struggling to remember some of the details about his relationship with financier Jho Low.

In an office on Sunset Boulevard back in April 2018, an FBI special agent, an IRS investigator and three Department of Justice prosecutors started off their interrogation of the movie star with gentle questions, according to an FBI summary of the interview. They spoke about his acting career, his charity work and his production company, Appian Way.

Soon the interview turned to Low, the tycoon accused of orchestrating the looting of billions of dollars from Malaysian sovereign-wealth fund 1MDB, whom DiCaprio had met in 2010. Low had lavished the actor with gifts, partying with him across the globe and financing his 2013 movie . DiCaprio recounted to the agents that the relationship began in a nightclub. He’d been told that Low’s money came from an unknown “whale of whales” in Abu Dhabi, he said, and that Low was the “Mozart of the business world.” Only later, around 2015, did federal investigators target Low in a multibillion-dollar embezzlement probe. (He didn’t reply to a request for comment.)

As an FBI agent presented DiCaprio with emails and documents, the actor’s memory became less clear. He didn’t remember discussing one of Low’s companies with him, even though DiCaprio had once described Low in an email to a potential investor as “my friend” and the “CEO” of that same company. When he looked at another email, DiCaprio told the agents it didn’t look like “something he would write”—he thought he “might have cut-and-pasted it.” DiCaprio was sure his managers had vetted Low before working with him on , but he didn’t recall what the background check had found.

Low’s connection to DiCaprio and other celebrities has come under renewed scrutiny as prosecutors prepare for the criminal trial of hip-hop legend Prakazrel “Pras” Michél, a member of the Fugees. Michél stands accused of directing foreign money into Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign and lobbying on behalf of Low and the Chinese government. Among the bright lights on Michél’s potential witness list are DiCaprio, Obama, former ­President Donald Trump and hotel magnate Steve Wynn.

That Low liked to party with actors, record producers and models is no secret, nor are the paintings, supercars and cash he gifted them. But previously undisclosed FBI documents reviewed by offer a deeper accounting of those deals and show how federal agents squeezed celebrities and their handlers for information about Low.

Kim Kardashian, for instance, told the FBI in February 2019 how she’d met Low and partied with him in Las Vegas. He’d given her fiancé at the time, NBA journeyman Kris Humphries, $100,000 for fireworks at their 2011 wedding. Years later he offered her a work by Basquiat, prompting her then husband, Kanye West, to ask for a Monet—“to mess with Low because both Kardashian and West found Low to be very fickle when giving gifts and never expected to actually receive a painting,” the agents wrote. (A representative for DiCaprio declined to comment. Representatives for Kardashian, Humphries and West didn’t respond to detailed messages seeking comment.)

Kardashian also recounted an unusual money transfer. According to the FBI summary of her interview, she and others—including co-producers Riza Aziz and Joey McFarland—were at a casino in Las Vegas with Low. The group played baccarat in a private room. At 5 a.m., Kardashian was ready to leave, but a friend told her to drink some coffee and stick around, because he’d “heard stories of Low giving people chips at the end of the night.” As the gamblers screamed “monkey” (baccarat lingo that basically means “I need a 10 or face card”), Kardashian called out which bets to make and won a big hand.

She tried to turn the winnings over to Low, but he told her to keep the chips, by then worth $350,000. She told the FBI that when she went to the casino counter to cash out, she was handed $250,000 in “a trash bag full of one hundred dollar bills.”

“Kardashian put the trash bag full of cash in her carry-on bag and boarded a Southwest Airlines flight back to Los Angeles,” FBI agents wrote. She collected the other $100,000, again in a trash bag full of cash, during a later trip to party with Low in Las Vegas.

The FBI task force interviewed not only A-listers but also the middlemen who serve the world’s most famous people. Ralph DeLuca, a memorabilia broker, told the agents how he sold associates of DiCaprio and Low $10 million in vintage movie posters. Famed jeweler Lorraine Schwartz recalled bringing a diamond to a yacht in Monaco for Low to examine and crafting a necklace worth more than $20 ­million for the wife of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was sentenced to prison in connection with the 1MDB scandal. (Her lawyers have said she didn’t request the necklace and never received it.)

“Low once told Schwartz not to tell other people about the purchases he made from his own account,” the FBI reported. “Schwartz thought this was because Low did not want people to know how much he was spending on gifts for others, especially Miranda Kerr.” (Kerr, a supermodel, briefly dated Low; she turned over gifts he’d given her to the government. Her representatives declined to comment for this story. DeLuca and Schwartz didn’t respond to messages.)

But Special Agent Robert Heuchling, of the FBI’s international corruption unit, did want to know. By September 2019, after leading a global hunt for the billions Low and others had allegedly looted, Heuchling and his colleagues were after every dollar they could find. They were still eager to haul in more celebrities, to build a case against Low and figure out where the stolen funds had gone.

“Been thinking a bunch about Swizz,” he wrote to colleagues, referring to acclaimed record producer Swizz Beatz (who didn’t respond to a request for comment). “I think we need to bring Kerr to [the grand jury].”

One celebrity drew more attention from investigators than the others: DiCaprio, whose relationship with Low extended far beyond parties and largesse. Agents collected thousands of BlackBerry messages and emails between the two and their associates. They built a spreadsheet of all the gifts Low had given to DiCaprio across five years and the $6 million he pledged to his charity. They reviewed photos of the two wearing tuxedos at an event, signing paperwork and standing in front of a Basquiat Low donated to DiCaprio’s charity.

What emerged from the FBI’s investigation was a picture of how close the men became. The movie star introduced Low as “my man,” and the investor called DiCaprio “Ldogg.” Their mothers had met. DiCaprio connected Low with his friends in the art world, technology and real estate. And the pair traded ideas about a megafund of $1 billion for more films, a Warner Bros. theme park in Asia with rides based on DiCaprio movies and the development of an eco-friendly resort in Belize. “I was working for him,” DiCaprio later told a grand jury, “and that business also translates into being social. And so we saw each other more, and there was more interaction.”

Often in the middle of those interactions was Rick Yorn, DiCaprio’s manager. A powerful figure in Hollywood, Yorn represents a roster of A-listers including Jennifer Lawrence and Justin Timberlake. (They haven’t been connected to the Low affair. A representative for Yorn declined to comment for this story.) For his biggest client, Yorn dreamed of a transformative deal and saw Low’s billions as a way to unlock it.

“Need to talk about what I think is the ‘cracking of the code’ structure/deal for you,” Yorn wrote to DiCaprio in December 2013. “Been working on it quietly with a few people and I need to take you through it. Could be a game changer. I’m hesitant to tell Jho about it now but I think I might give him a taste.” It’s unclear what kind of arrangement Yorn envisioned, or whether it was ever set in motion, but he later wrote back to DiCaprio: “I took Jho through it. He gets it big time.”

Yorn became a hands-on negotiator and peacemaker, working directly with Low. At one juncture, Low groused about ’s budget to Yorn, telling him to “work your magic” and persuade director Martin Scorsese to cut costs. At another point, when the deal seemed on the brink of falling apart, Yorn wrote to Low’s team: “I wish it could cost less. It’s not for lack of trying and the [$95 million budget] just can’t be done. I wish it could. We will be close.”

The emails show Yorn saw Low as a potential partner in future deals. He told DiCaprio he “would love to get Jho and the boys” to invest in a Cameron Diaz picture and credited Low with inspiring a $30 million cash offer from Aziz for DiCaprio to star in two other films, and . None of those deals worked out. (Aziz didn’t respond to a message requesting comment.)

Like DiCaprio, Yorn became part of Low’s social circle, visiting his yacht in the Mediterranean and planning to join the financier at a party in Las Vegas. Reflecting one night on Low’s relationship with another supermodel, he wrote to DiCaprio: “What a world, L. What a world.”

Even after the DOJ announced plans to seize Low’s assets and the rights to , the financier continued to pitch Yorn and DiCaprio. When Low pestered DiCaprio about a Chinese film fund, DiCaprio told agents, he’d used his manager as a “buffer.”

“Buddy I know you don’t want to deal with Jho Low on this China deal,” he wrote to Yorn in August 2016, “but by not engaging with him or contacting him back, he is constantly contacting me. Again this is now falling in my hands.”

“I’ll do whatever u want,” Yorn responded. “I will deal. Just wanted some space. I told him after Labor Day … I’ll talk to him. I’m just protecting us.”

Later, Yorn wrote DiCaprio: “I texted Jho brother. R u having fun? We should rent that island out … with a bunch of hotties. Haha.”

DiCaprio told the FBI he wasn’t exactly sure where Low’s wealth came from. He said it was the responsibility of Yorn and DiCaprio’s entertainment lawyer to look into him. DiCaprio said that his publicist, Shawn Sachs, had hired someone to conduct a background check on Low but that he didn’t “thoroughly read” it. “Usually, DiCaprio relies on his reps to read the reports and give him an okay to continue to work with someone. In this case, his reps gave him the green light to continue to work with Low,” FBI agents wrote.

During the interview, they pressed DiCaprio on when he became aware of the growing suspicions surrounding Low. “DiCaprio lives in a world of rumors,” they recounted, “so he did not take any of them seriously until the main negative news stories about Low came out and his team told him it was now serious.”

And as news stories began to emerge about Low and 1MDB in 2015, something else had fractured the relationship. DiCaprio was planning a fundraiser in St-Tropez, France, for his foundation. Low promised to donate a piece by the artist Roy Lichtenstein. As the deadline drew near, the piece still hadn’t shown up. Low promised it would be there, but it never arrived. DiCaprio had to pull it from the auction. “DiCaprio started to distance himself from Low after this,” the agents wrote. “He was embarrassed.”

Prosecutors filed a sprawling forfeiture action against Low’s assets in July 2016, seeking to seize real estate, artwork and the rights to . About a year later, DiCaprio’s attorneys met with federal agents to hand over some of the gifts the actor had received, including a first edition of and the Oscar statuette Marlon Brando won for .

During a meeting with prosecutors and FBI agents, DiCaprio’s attorneys asked the DOJ to “take all steps possible to minimize DiCaprio’s connection to any upcoming forfeiture complaints the government may file.” They also drafted a press release and asked that prosecutors put it out to “thank Mr. DiCaprio for providing substantial assistance.” The government declined the request.

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