WASHINGTON — Leonardo DiCaprio took the witness stand Monday in the case against former Fugees member Pras Michel and told jurors that his team vetted a key "Wolf of Wall Street" investor, accused of stealing billions of dollars.
Michel is accused of conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions using foreign money, witness tampering and failure to register as a foreign agent of the Chinese government.
DiCaprio was on the witness stand for about an hour, answering questions from both sides, about his dealings with Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman and international fugitive.
Low is accused of stealing billions from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
The prosecution's case against Michel is focused on his work for Low, who has been charged as a co-defendant but remains at large.
The Justice Department has filed lawsuits seeking to seize assets tied to 1Malaysia Development Berhad, saying that more than $3.5 billion was misappropriated and used to buy real estate, art, a yacht and a jet and to help finance movies such as “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
DiCaprio starred in and co-produced the 2013 blockbuster movie "The Wolf of Wall Street."
DiCaprio said he understood Low was a "prodigy in the business world," but still had his representatives and lawyers vet this investor "to see whether the financing was good or not and safe to accept."
Low's funding covered the "financing of the film, payment of the cast and crew" and everything that goes into moviemaking, according to DiCaprio.
DiCaprio has previously said, in a statement, that he's cooperating with the Justice Department to determine whether he or his foundation “ever received any gifts or charitable donations directly or indirectly related to these parties, and if so, to return those gifts or donations as soon as possible.”
In this Washington, D.C., trial, which began last week, Low and Michel are accused of conspiring to use straw donors to funnel millions of dollars of the businessman's money to the 2012 campaign of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
DiCaprio recalled Low telling him once that the financier planned on donating “$20-30 million” to the Democratic Party in 2012, which had Obama at the top of the ticket. The actor remembered saying “wow, that’s a lot of money” at the moment.
Michel and Low are also accused of lobbying the Trump administration, on behalf of Beijing, to extradite a Chinese dissident living in America, prosecutors said.
The dissident, Guo Wengui, was never extradited, but he was arrested this month and federally charged with fraud and money laundering, prosecutors said.
Michel, best known as part of the ’90s hip-hop group the Fugees, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, the most serious of which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Alexandra Bacallao reported from Washington, D.C., and David K. Li from New York City.