Rainforest Charity Wants Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to Pay Back Millions in Donations
The Bruno Manser Fund, a rainforest conservation charity based in Switzerland, wants the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to pay back millions in donations from individuals connected to a Malaysian money-laundering scandal.
In an open letter published to its website, the charity called for DiCaprio to "disclose and restitute to Malaysia all donations, loans, salaries and other funds" the foundation received from Riza Aziz and Jho Low, two key figures in the massive scam that saw $3 billion embezzled from 1MDB, a Malaysian state fund.
While the Department of Justice only tangentially named the foundation in its investigation of the case, Low, especially, is a known associate of DiCaprio, and on several occasions donated or otherwise raised funds for the foundation. In its letter, the Bruno Manser Fund specifically named the $3 million Low gave the foundation through the purchase of marked-up bottles of champagne at a 2013 birthday party for DiCaprio.
“We are deeply disturbed that Leonardo DiCaprio and his foundation accepted assets that originate from the proceeds of corruption in Malaysia," Lukas Straumann, director of the Bruno Manser Fund, wrote. "This is a disgrace and in total contradiction with the declared aims of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. We call on DiCaprio to apologize and pay back all this dirty money to the Malaysian people.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, which broke the original story in a lengthy exposé, the Bruno Manser Fund has no connections to DiCaprio or the foundation. But the charity focuses its conservation efforts in Malaysia and, clearly, took issue with the foundation's negative involvement, intentional or not, in the country's affairs—and particularly the repercussions for its rainforests. Via The Hollywood Reporter:
“Money was stolen from the treasury and went straight into Leo’s pocket,” says Straumann. “That is dirty money, and he should pay it back.”
The charity boss asserts that political corruption in Malaysia—of which the 1MDB scandal is the biggest known example, with billions of dollars laundered internationally—has been a “major driver” of deforestation, with local politicians handed lucrative logging contracts as bribes to support the under-fire government.
“It’s a corrupt system and directly affects the way natural resources are being handled,” Straumann says. “Politicians in Malaysia have earned billions of dollars from cutting down the rainforest illegally.”
In July, the foundation announced $15.6 million in grants for environmental issues, including habitat conservation. And the organization is involved in two projects in Sumatra—Malaysia's close neighbor—both involving rainforests. Straumann told The Hollywood Reporter he believes the foundation does plenty of good, but that it should be held accountable when it does wrong.
“We hear he has a genuine commitment to nature and championing indigenous rights, and I think it’s extremely important for someone in Hollywood to do that, but if it comes to accepting stolen money, that’s a simple no go,” Straumann told the website. "Maybe he has a bipolar personality.”