Should Leonardo DiCaprio resign from UN climate change post?

Leonardo DiCaprio at UN: A lawsuit claims that the actor’s environmental protection charity, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, is one of the businesses to receive donations allegedly embezzled from the 1MDB fund.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, joined by U.S. President Barack Obama and Katharine Hayhoe, speaks about climate change as part of the White House South by South Lawn event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington,Monday, Oct. 3, 2016.

A Swiss rainforest charity has called for actor Leonardo DiCaprio to renounce his position as UN Messenger for Peace for climate change due to alleged connections to a multi-billion dollar Malaysian corruption scandal.

Mr. DiCaprio was appointed to the UN position in 2014  by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who called him a "credible voice in the environmental movement." But the validity of that statement has been thrown into question as evidence surfaces that the actor had ties to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit in July against the 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund run by the Malaysian government and was intended to make investments in global projects and use profits to improve the quality of life for the Malaysian people. But the fund has been linked to environmentally destructive practices and was treated as a "personal bank account," according to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. 

The DOJ civil forfeiture case seeks the recovery of more than $1 billion in assets associated with an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from the 1MDB Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.

"If DiCaprio is unwilling to come clean, we ask him to step down as UN Messenger for Peace for climate change, because he simply lacks the credibility for such an important role," Lukas Straumann, director of the Switzerland-based charity the Bruno Manser Fund, told the Huffington Post.

The lawsuit claims that the actor’s environmental protection charity, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, is one of the businesses to receive donations allegedly embezzled from the 1MDB fund. One of the charity’s major causes is fighting deforestation and habitat destruction.

The fund is also linked back to DiCaprio through his Hollywood connections. The 2013 movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” in which Dicaprio starred, was largely funded by Red Granite Pictures,  which was founded by Riza Aziz, stepson to the Malaysia's Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who manages the 1MDB fund.

The US Department of Justice alleged in a July statement:.

As further detailed in the complaints, the stolen funds were laundered into the United States and used by the co-conspirators to acquire and invest in various assets.  These assets allegedly included high-end real estate and hotel properties in New York and Los Angeles, a $35 million jet aircraft, works of art by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, an interest in the music publishing rights of EMI Music and the production of the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street

Red Granite Pictures said in a statement in July that it was confident that “when the facts come out, it will be clear that Riza Aziz and Red Granite did nothing wrong.”

It was at a press conference in London held Friday by the Bruno Manser, which focuses on deforestation in Malaysia, called on DiCaprio to take action.

“Leonardo DiCaprio needs to understand that we can’t save the environment if we fail to stop corruption,” Straumann said in an open letter to DiCaprio. “And he has to come clean on his ties to Riza Aziz and [Malaysian financier] Low Taek Jho, two key figures of Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption scandal.”

"He needs to become part of the solution," Straumann added. "But today he is part of the problem."

DiCaprio has not yet publicly responded to the call to step down from the UN post. 

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