From Hollywood to the courts

From a promising film producer, to Malaysia’s money laundering suspect

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / graphic by TMR

RIZA Shahriz Abdul Aziz — or better known as Riza Aziz — was no stranger to the media, especially in the US following the critical and commercial success of The Wolf of Wall Street almost six years ago.

In 2011, one of the media outlets in the US listed him as one of the top 10 producers to watch, after he founded Red Granite Pictures with Joey McFarland in the previous year.

Since the movie’s success, Riza was seen attending major Hollywood award ceremonies that even saw Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio thanking “the entire production team” including Riza, in his Golden Globe acceptance speech.

Before his name was linked to alleged involvement with the nation’s most controversial sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), Riza was also reportedly a close associate of fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low.

There were occasions where Jho Low was pictured to be standing alongside Riza and McFarland during premieres of Red Granite’s movies, which fuelled suspicion of Jho Low’s involvement with the production house.

Riza, 49, is a son from Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s previous marriage to Abdul Aziz Nong Chik.

Having a background in economics from an elite institution in London, Riza had worked with multinational consultant KPMG for two years until 2002 and HSBC Holdings plc in London in 2005.

Everything was going well for Riza, having produced and released two more movies including Dumb and Dumber To and Daddy’s Home in 2014, until The Wall Street Journal’s expose and subsequents reports after, linking him with the 1MDB funds.

There were several reports accusing Riza of purchasing a US$33.5 million (RM138.35 million) condominium in New York City.

Photos of Riza and Jho Low having lavish parties in New York, Las Vegas and other places began surfacing on the media.

Entertainment news outlet The Hollywood Reporter described Red Granite’s launch party in Cannes as “one of the hottest parties in years”, noting the lavish spending by the company’s founders.

Riza was reported to have confessed in an interview that the monies used to fund Red Granite films were mainly from investors from the Middle East and Asia, while McFarland had refused to answer when asked about their source of funding.

The production house reached an agreement with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) in March 2018, and did not admit to wrongdoing linked to the state investment fund. In September last year, Red Granite paid the remainder of the US$60 million settlement to the US government to end its involvement in the DoJ’s kleptocracy action linked to 1MDB.

After the change of government in Malaysia last year, Riza was taken to questioning by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for the first time on July 3, 2018.

He had his statements recorded on allegations that he had used 1MDB funds to finance his movies.

In total, Riza had gone to five rounds of questioning for more than 30 hours.

He was last called for questioning by the anti-graft agency yesterday, before being briefly arrested and released on bail.