From Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s chaotic yet captivating trial to, more recently, Gwyneth Paltrow’s iconically petty $1 ski accident-related win, one thing is for sure: celebrity court cases have become our new favourite reality show. And, although the latest trial involving famous individuals hasn’t received as much media attention yet, we’re pretty certain this is about to change following none other than Leonardo DiCaprio’s appearance on the stand.
On Monday 3 April 2023, the Titanic actor testified in the trial of ex-Fugees rapper Pras Michel, who is being accused of receiving more than $100 million (£80 million) from Malaysian fugitive billionaire Jho Low. Low is currently wanted by authorities internationally in connection with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, the biggest embezzlement case in history.
According to federal prosecutors, Michel was being paid to bring “secret, illegal foreign influence to bear” on US politics. The rapper is further accused of making illegal contributions to former US President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, using an illegal network of third parties paid with foreign funds.
Prosecutors also believe that Low wanted to use Michel to lobby Trump administration officials to abandon their investigation into Low’s alleged role in the 1MDB scandal. The mastermind behind the international money laundering and bribery scheme is currently at large, and believed to be hiding somewhere in China.
Meanwhile, despite his appearance in court, DiCaprio is not accused of any wrongdoing in the trial. So why did he testify in it in the first place, and what exactly are his ties to Michel?
Speaking to jurors on Monday, DiCaprio explained that he first met Michel through his infamous love for partying, at a party held in Las Vegas in 2010. From there, the actor attended “a multitude of lavish parties” on yachts and nightclubs at the rapper’s invitation, alongside other celebrities such as Miranda Kerr, Alicia Keys, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears. In fact, according to the BBC, Spears once jumped out of a cake for Michel’s birthday.
The 48-year-old heartthrob went on to describe one particularly Great Gasby-esque occasion where he and Low both attended a New Year’s Eve party in Australia, only to then be flown with other partygoers to New York City in order to celebrate New Year’s twice. So much for securing a sustainable future for our planet, huh Leo?
It should also be noted that the actor’s infamous 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street (which, ironically, is about another major fraudster), was partially funded by a firm tied to Low. After being asked to reveal what he knew about the financier-turned-fugitive, DiCaprio said: “I understood him to be a huge businessman with many connections. He was a prodigy in the business world and ultra-successful.”
According to FBI documents from when the actor was first questioned about his ties with the Malaysian fraudster in 2019, Low affectionately called him “L-Dogg.” Furthermore, among other lavish presents, Low had reportedly previously gifted the actor a $3.2 million Pablo Picasso painting and a $9 million Jean-Michel Basquiat collage, which DiCaprio ultimately handed over to the US authorities in 2017.
On Monday, the actor said that Low also actively participated in auctions held by DiCaprio in St Tropez “to bring in funds” for his environmentally-focused foundation. DiCaprio explained that the two men began discussing US politics later in their relationship, with Low expressing an interest in making a “significant contribution” of between $20 million and $30 million to the Democratic party ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
“I basically said, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money’,” DiCaprio stated. Authorities believe those funds were embezzled from 1MDB.
But DiCaprio wasn’t even the only celebrity to be interviewed by the FBI in connection to Low. According to the report, Kim Kardashian was also questioned by authorities, who recalled that she once stayed up till 5 am in a Las Vegas casino with Low.
Often talking in a soft-spoken manner during Michel’s trial—to be honest, we’d probably do the same if we were in his position—DiCaprio was asked to “keep his voice up” by US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly more than once.
As for Michel’s role in this case, the Oscar-winner did not accuse him of wrongdoing in his testimony, instead sharing that he first met the rapper in the 90s following a Fugees concert and saw him later on at some parties.
DiCaprio aside, it’s rumoured that other celebrities might be asked to testify in Michel’s trial, including actors Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx and Mark Wahlberg, in addition to director Martin Scorsese, as stated by CNN.