Leonardo DiCaprio testifies at the trial of rapper Brass Michel, a former member of the Fugees
(CNN) – Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio was the first star witness to take the stand Monday in the trial of rapper Brass Michel, a former member of the Fugees. Many celebrities are expected to testify in the process.
Michel is accused of participating in a global campaign finance scheme led by Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman who allegedly stole billions of dollars from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund called 1MDB. Michel pleaded not guilty.
DiCaprio, who reportedly testified before the grand jury that returned the indictment against Michelle, is not charged with any wrongdoing.
While both Michel and Lou are in the US facing charges, Lou remains on the run, so only Michel is on trial.
DiCaprio testified for about an hour about his affair with Low, in an attempt by prosecutors to show that Low used the stolen money to curry favor with actors, models and politicians in the United States. Prosecutors will likely portray DiCaprio as charismatic to explain the scope of the alleged conspiracy and to show a star who would dwarf even Michelle.
When government prosecutors called DiCaprio as a witness, many jurors who had seemed bored during earlier testimony were surprised. One juror’s head snapped, while another looked around excitedly. A third juror clapped silently and leaned back in his seat.
DiCaprio entered the court dressed in a blue suit, surrounded by members of the United States Marshals Service. He spoke slowly during his testimony and was so quiet at times that U.S. District Judge Colin Kollar-Kettle, presiding over the case, had to ask him to speak.
Asking DiCaprio to introduce himself, prosecutor Nicole Lockhart told DiCaprio: “At the risk of asking a stupid question, ‘What do you do to live?'”
DiCaprio replied, “I am an actor.”
DiCaprio testified about his relationship with Low
According to prosecutors, Law and DiCaprio were introduced by the stepson of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is accused in his country in connection with the 1MDB corruption scandal.
DiCaprio told the jury on Monday that he attended Law’s birthday party in Las Vegas around 2010, when she was first introduced. DiCaprio said he understood Low to be “kind of a commercial miracle and very successful.”
DiCaprio also said that he met Michelle in the 1990s and attended a Fugees concert. He also noted that Michel may have attended the Thanksgiving banquet at his house, but that “the memory may fail”.
When DiCaprio was asked to identify Michele in the courtroom, Michele leaned and waved to the actor.
Lou and DiCaprio’s relationship was purely social at first, the actor said, recounting “a number of lavish parties” around the world, which Michel was also reported to have attended. At one point, DiCaprio said that Law took several celebrities to Australia for New Year’s Eve and then brought them back to Las Vegas in time to ring in the new year again.
“Did he arrive just in time for the celebration” back in Las Vegas, David Keener, Michelle’s defense attorney, asked.
“It depends on how you look at it,” DiCaprio replied. The courtroom erupted in laughter.
DiCaprio told jurors that he spoke to Low in 2012 about the ongoing presidential election.
“It was an informal conversation about which party I support,” DiCaprio recounted, “and I told him which party I supported.” He continued, “He told me that he, or he and a group, would make a significant contribution to the Democratic Party,” indicating that the donation was about $20 million or $30 million.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money,'” DiCaprio added.
Prosecutors argue that this money was stolen from 1MDB and that Michel helped Low make the donations through a series of front men.
The actor testified that Lou eventually offered to finance a film for DiCaprio. The Oscar winner said DiCaprio’s lawyers, a production company and a third party ran background checks on Low and his finances, after which he was given the green light to move forward with Low’s deal.
Prosecutors allege that Low laundered money from 1MDB through a Los Angeles-based film production company called 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 accepting the Golden Globe Award for his role in the film.
Law also testified to giving money to DiCaprio’s environmental foundation, purchasing a painting at a fundraiser and making donations through other business entities.
DiCaprio testified that he stopped speaking to Low around 2015, when his representatives discovered an article alleging Low was using “illegal funding from Malaysia and elsewhere”.
In 2016, prosecutors made progress seizing 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 have received from 1MDB.
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