Malaysia Drops 'Wolf Of Wall Street' Charges

This file photo shows Irwin Winkler, Riza Aziz (C) and Joey McFarland attend "The Wolf Of Wall Street" world premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City. (AFP Photo)

A deal to drop money-laundering charges linked to the 1MDB scandal against a producer of Hollywood hit "Wolf of Wall Street" is terrible for Malaysia, the country's former attorney-general said Monday.

Riza Aziz, who is also the stepson of the country's disgraced ex-leader Najib Razak, was charged last year for allegedly receiving nearly US$250 million from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Billions of dollars were looted from the fund and spent on everything from a yacht to art in a huge fraud that purportedly involved Najib and his cronies.

But last week, Malaysian prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the charges against Riza after he agreed to a deal that will see him return about US$107 million in assets to Malaysia. Officials insist Riza can still be prosecuted if he does not honour the agreement.

Many were angered he had avoided a jail term, however, and political rivals have suggested the move was linked to Najib's party returning to power following a political upheaval earlier this year.

Malaysia's former attorney-general Tommy Thomas, who had taken the decision to prosecute the film producer, said the agreement was a "sweetheart deal for Riza but terrible for Malaysia".

The US Department of Justice, which has been helping the Southeast Asian country claw back looted funds, "would have returned these monies in any event because it belongs to Malaysia and was stolen from Malaysia", he said in a statement.

His successor has insisted Thomas agreed to dropping the charges "in principle" - but he rubbished this as "a fiction".

"I would have never sanctioned this deal," he said.

Mahathir Mohamad, a leading opposition politician who was prime minister until his government collapsed in February, noted Riza would return less than half the amount he was accused of receiving from 1MDB. 

"This has never happened in Malaysia but is happening now - and many thieves are waiting to go to court to return half of their haul and secure freedom," the 94-year-old told a press conference.

Riza had been accused of receiving US$248.17 million in 2011 and 2012 in illegal proceeds that came from 1MDB.

The money was sent to bank accounts of Hollywood production company Red Granite Pictures, which Riza co-founded.

Aside from "The Wolf of Wall Street", which was about a huge financial scam and starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Red Granite also produced the Jim Carrey movie "Dumb and Dumber To" and "Daddy's Home".

Najib was voted out of power in 2018 in large part due to public anger at the 1MDB scandal, and has since been put on trial over the mammoth fraud. He denies any wrongdoing.

But the alliance that ousted the scandal-mired leader, headed by Mahathir, collapsed amid intense infighting, paving the way for Najib's party to return as part of a coalition. - AFP