Sitting in a distant third-place in Democratic Primary polls, California Senator Kamala Harris is set to have a $2,800 per-person fundraiser with a who’s who of Hollywood at the home of filmmaker J.J. Abrams and his producer wife Katie McGrath on March 20th.
Among the list of Hollywood producers, agents, and filmmakers listed as co-hosts for the fundraiser—many of whom donated to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and former President Obama’s campaigns—is Shomik Dutta, a former investment banker who also served as special assistant to the White House Counsel for President Obama.
[Editor’s Note: the event page for Senator Harris’ fundraiser no longer appears on the Malibu Democratic Club’s website—MDC told Status Coup it was taken down at the request of the Harris campaign for “security reasons”]
In a Status Coup investigation that examined Dutta, now a partner at political technology company Higher Ground Labs, and his former investment firm‘s potentially dubious connection to the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad [1MDB] fund—a global money-laundering scandal involving everyone from Goldman Sachs to actor Leonardo DiCaprio—unresolved questions remain.
1MDB was a sovereign wealth fund created to build infrastructure and agricultural projects in Malaysia supported by wealthy investors from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries. Goldman Sachs, whom Malaysian authorities recently filed suit against for $7.5 billion, was the bank responsible for setting up the bond payments for investors, but those wealthy investors were left holding the bag: the $6.5 billion dollars ultimately raised never went to building anything; instead money was allegedly laundered into the personal accounts of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and other political and business elites.
According to The New York Times, hundreds of millions were also diverted into expensive yachts, jewelry, paintings, and ironically, production costs for DiCaprio’s “Wolf of Wall Street.”
Dutta co-founded the investment firm DuSable Capital in 2013 with Frank White Jr., a prolific Democratic Party donor who served on then-candidate Obama’s 2008 campaign as Mid-Atlantic Finance Director, as a fundraiser for Obama’s 2012 campaign, and on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 National Finance Committee, and rapper and Fugees founder Pras Michel—the latter of whom was recently named in court filings related to working with a former DOJ official in an alleged conspiracy to funnel tens of millions of dollars in connection to the 1MDB scandal.
Early on after its formation, DuSable launched a $505 million fund in the form of a general partner, called Yurus Private Equity I, LP. According to The Wall Street Journal, 1MDB and Yurus entered into a Master Joint Venture Agreement to develop solar power plants in Malaysia—which netted DuSable $506,000.
That same year, DuSable Capital registered papers with the Foreign Agents Registration to serve as a lobbyist for 1MDB in order to “encourage the U.S. government to provide non-financial support” for a Malaysia solar project, according to the filing that was signed by Dutta.
But the solar projects never came to fruition: six months after the deal, 1MDB bought out DuSable Capital, paying the firm $69 million for its 49 percent stake. Despite the lack of construction, money flowed to those involved. According to a 2016 Wall Street Journal report, investigators believe $10 million allegedly embezzled from 1MDB indirectly landed into the pockets of White, Dutta’s co-founder. White and DuSable cooperated with investigators, the report said.
But the rest of the story is blurry.
In response to questions regarding whether DuSable Capital, Dutta, or White were ever, or are currently under, investigation, the Department of Justice answered Status Coup with its customary non-answer: “The U.S. Department of Justice generally does not confirm, deny or otherwise comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation.”
Dutta “politely declined” to comment or answer Status Coup’s questions, which included whether he had ever been interviewed by the DOJ or any state or local bodies about DuSable’s deal with 1MDB—or if he, or the firm, had ever been, or currently are, under investigation. In two subsequent attempts to get an answer from Dutta, he again declined. Attempts to reach Frank White Jr. and DuSable Capital were unsuccessful: the company’s website has no listed number and the email address provided bounced back.
Oddly, or perhaps not considering DuSable’s ties to 1MDB, Dutta has scrubbed his time with DuSable from the public record. On his LinkedIn page, the time period for his role at DuSable is listed under “Renewable Energy Private Equity,” rather than DuSable Capital, in the area where the name of a company or organization typically is found. In his biography on his current firm’s website, there’s again no mention of DuSable Capital.
Beyond his aversion to publicizing his time with DuSable, there are also questions surrounding the exact time period Dutta worked at DuSable.
According to an August 2016 Washington Free Beacon story, the outlet received an automated response from DuSable Capital that Dutta was no longer with the company. But that doesn’t square with Dutta’s Linkedin page, which says he was with the company until November 2016, or more specifically, on his current company biography, which says he left the day after Donald Trump was elected president “to get back in the fight.”
There are also oddities with the timeline of DuSable itself. According to a September 2015 filing, DuSable’s SEC registration was terminated, leaving one to wonder why the firm was sending a media outlet an automated message nearly a year later as if it was still operating. But this could also be inconsequential, such as a simple case of a firm changing over to private operations rather than being SEC regulated.
Being that both DOJ and Dutta declined to shed light on whether he or DuSable are under investigation in relation to the massive foreign money-laundering scandal, Status Coup reached out to Senator Harris’ campaign to ask whether they were aware that Dutta, a co-host at the upcoming fundraiser and prior donor to Harris, worked at a firm that profited tens of millions of dollars from a deal with an alleged money-laundering racket. Numerous requests for comment, both through email and Twitter direct message, were not returned. Status Coup continues to have an open request for comment from Senator Harris’ campaign on this—and whether Dutta will remain a co-host for her upcoming fundraiser.
Senator Harris made a splash upon entering the 2020 presidential field, raising $1 million in 24 hours. But since Senator Bernie Sanders has announced, she’s behind in both fundraising and most national polls (behind Sanders and the still on-the-sidelines former Vice President Joe Biden).
In a growing anti-big donor political climate, Harris had pledged to shun corporate PAC donations. But that’s not stopping the former California Attorney General from brushing elbows with a who’s who of Hollywood and media—and cashing their checks. In February, she had a private fundraiser at the home of Universal President Jeff Shell, which included Hollywood heavyweights and political donors.
Harris’ political career also has financial ties to corporate media: individuals working at Warner Media, CNN’s longtime parent company which was acquired by AT&T in 2018, are listed as Harris’ top career donor at $127,975, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. All of those donations came during her 2016 Senate campaign.
CNN hosted a town hall with Harris a day after her campaign kickoff in January. The network has covered her campaign at length, going as far as recently ranking her #1 in its candidate “power rankings“—despite former VP Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders out-polling her, and in Sanders’ case, performing better in fundraising. According to CNN forecaster Harry Enten, Harris was winning the Google Search traffic race, attributing that and “activist support” as the reason for her top ranking.
In addition to declining to answer whether he or DuSable Capital is under investigation related to 1MDB, Dutta declined to answer whether he will still be attending Harris’ March 20th fundraiser as a co-host.
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