Disgraced Financier Jho Low Is Turning Over a Picasso and Basquiat Once Given to Leonardo DiCaprio as Part of a $700 Million Settlement

Low's settlement with the US Justice Department is said to be the largest civil forfeiture deal ever.

Jho Low at the Angel Ball, hosted by Gabrielle's Angel Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street on October 20, 2014 in New York. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Gabrielle's Angel Foundation.
Jho Low at Cipriani Wall Street on October 20, 2014 in New York. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Gabrielle's Angel Foundation.

The disgraced Malaysian financier and flashy art collector Jho Low will soon hand much of his flash over to the feds. As part of a settlement with the US Department of Justice finalized on October 30, Low will forfeit $700 million worth of assets, including works by Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Diane Arbus—which were given as gifts to the actor Leonardo DiCaprio—as well as other treasures by Monet and Van Gogh.

The settlement, which is still subject to approval by the courts, is said to be the largest civil forfeiture ever secured by the Justice Department. It resolves 10 lawsuits brought by the department over allegedly pilfered proceeds from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). 

“This settlement agreement forces Low and his family to relinquish hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains that were intended to be used for the benefit of the Malaysian people,” Brian Benczkowski, head of the criminal division of the Justice Department, said in a statement. 

Other assets surrendered as part of the deal, according to documents filed by authorities, include a Bombardier Global 500 jet and high-end real estate in London, New York, and Los Angeles. A Justice Department spokesperson told NPR that authorities plan to use the proceeds to benefit those who were harmed by the corruption in Malaysia. 

The agreement is a significant development in the ongoing scandal that has embroiled Malaysia and ensnared both Goldman Sachs executives and Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak. American authorities claim that high-level 1MDB officials, including Low, siphoned more than $4.5 billion from the fund that was intended to fuel economic development and used the money to finance elaborate purchases ranging from diamond jewelry to luxury hotels. 

Low, who still faces criminal prosecution for his alleged role in the 1MDB scheme, denies any wrongdoing. In a statement provided to Artnet News, he stressed that the settlement did not constitute an admission of guilt. He described the agreement with the Justice Department as “a landmark comprehensive, global settlement” and “an historic agreement” that is the result of “good-faith discussions.” 

Picasso's Nature Morte au Crane de Taureau (1939). Photo: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images.

Picasso’s Nature Morte au Crane de Taureau (1939). Photo: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images.

Some of the works of art forfeited as part of the agreement have particularly notable histories. Leonardo DiCaprio handed over Picasso’s painting Nature morte au crâne de taureau, worth an estimated $3.2 million, as well as Jean-Michel Basquiat’s collage Red Man One (1982) and Diane Arbus’s photograph Child With Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park (1962) at the request of federal authorities in 2017. 

Low and DiCaprio became acquainted through the film production company Red Granite, which produced the DiCaprio vehicle The Wolf of Wall Street. Red Granite was co-founded by the stepson of the former Malaysian prime minister, and supposedly received illicit financing from the 1MDB fund.

In the original complaint against Low, authorities suggested the financier had given the work to DiCaprio as a gift, accompanied by a handwritten note from a friend of Low’s that read, “Dear Leonardo DiCaprio: Happy belated Birthday! This gift is for you.” (A spokesman for the actor previously told Artnet News that the work, along with the others he surrendered to the FBI, were originally due to be sold in an annual charity auction to benefit his environmental foundation.) 

Low also surrendered other works as part of this week’s agreement, documents confirm, including Van Gogh’s La maison de Vincent à Arles (1888), purchased at Christie’s in 2013 for $5.5 million, and Saint-Georges Majeur by Monet, which Low bought from dealer David Nahmad in 2015 for more than $20 million. 

A spokeswoman for Low declined to comment beyond his prepared statement, and a representative for the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. 


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