Hollywood producer Riza Aziz, stepson of the former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, was arrested in Malaysia on Thursday and will face money-laundering charges in a long-running scandal over billions of dollars in missing government funds.
Mr Riza, whose Red Granite Pictures produced the Oscar-nominated film The Wolf of Wall Street, was released on bail. He will appear in court Friday in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, to be charged, said the head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Latheefa Koya.
Mr Riza joins his mother, stepfather and a longtime friend in facing charges in the disappearance of as much as $4.5 billion from a government investment fund that was controlled by Najib, the 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
The scandal rocked Malaysia and led to the ouster of Mr Najib last year, the first time that his party, the United Malays National Organization, had lost power in the country.
The missing money fuelled the lavish lifestyles of the Najib family and Mr Riza’s longtime friend Jho Low, according to prosecutors and the US Justice Department, which followed the trail of billions of dollars through American banks.
The missing money also helped finance Mr Riza’s movies, the authorities say. The Justice Department accused Red Granite Pictures of using money stolen from the investment fund, known as 1MDB, to produce Dumb and Dumber To and Daddy’s Home, as well as The Wolf of Wall Street.
Red Granite agreed last year to pay $60 million to settle an assets seizure lawsuit filed by the Justice Department over the three films.
Prosecutors allege that much of the money found its way to Mr Low, Riza’s Mr friend, who used it to travel the globe and live an opulent lifestyle. He is accused of using the money to purchase a $250-million yacht, multimillion-dollar jewellery and paintings for celebrity friends, including the model Miranda Kerr and Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Authorities have since seized the yacht, the Equanimity, and Kerr and DiCaprio have handed over the costly gifts they received. Mr Low is on the run and believed to be in China.
1MDB was established and overseen by Mr Najib, who was both prime minister and finance minister.
The authorities say that $731 million in government funds, most of it originating from 1MDB, was deposited into Mr Najib’s bank accounts. When that became public, Mr Najib claimed that most of the money was a gift from a member of the Saudi royal family.
In raids last year on properties owned by Mr Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, police seized as much as $273 million worth of cash, jewellery and luxury handbags.
Mr Najib has been charged with more than 40 criminal counts and is now being tried on some of them. He faces a second trial later this year on the remaining charges.
Mrs Rosmah, who is Riza’s mother, was arrested in October and charged with 17 counts of money laundering and tax evasion. She is famous for collecting diamonds, including a pink diamond worth $27.3 million, and scores of Hermès Birkin handbags, which can cost up to $300,000 apiece.
Mr Najib, Mrs Rosmah and Mr Low have all maintained their innocence. An attorney for Mr Riza could not be reached Thursday.
Mr Najib was defeated at the polls last year by his onetime mentor Mahathir Mohamad, a former prime minister who led a broad coalition of opposition factions to victory. Mr Mahathir, who turns 94 next week, recently appointed Mr Latheefa, a former human rights activist, to head the anti-corruption commission.
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