Rapper Pras Michel, well known for being a part of the Fugees, has been found guilty of a felony for allegedly participating in a multimillion dollar political conspiracy.
Born Prakazrel Samuel Michel, the musician was found guilty by a federal jury of “orchestrating an unregistered, back-channel campaign” to persuade the Department of Justice and the then-US President’s administration to drop the 1MDB investigation, which was related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, and is said to have started around 2017.
It’s been said by US prosecutors that the 50-year-old received more than $100million (£80m) from Malaysian billionaire Jho Low in an attempt to sway American politics.
Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio previously testified in the case, taking to the stand earlier this month after being friends with Low for several years. He was not accused of any wrongdoing, and appeared in court as a witness.
Michel faced charges of conspiring with the financier to orchestrate illegal lobbying campaigns to influence the US government when Barack Obama and Donald Trump were in power during their respective tenures in the White House.
In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A Polite Jr said: ‘As proven at trial, the defendant engaged in an extensive conspiracy to use millions of dollars in foreign funds to engage in illegal back-channel lobbying and make unlawful campaign contributions.
‘Today’s verdict demonstrates that anyone who engages in unlawful foreign-sponsored efforts to influence American officials, our elections, or the criminal justice system will be brought to justice.’
As outlined by the US Department of Justice, court documents and evidence presented at the trial showed that Michel conspired with several individuals ‘to engage in undisclosed lobbying campaigns’ with the aim of having ‘the 1MDB embezzlement investigation and forfeiture proceedings involving Low and others dropped and to have a Chinese national sent back to China’.
On the witness stand, Michel claimed that a $20m (£16m) sum that Low paid him over the course of nine months in 2012 was to help the financier have a photo with Obama.
The rapper stated that he used some of the money to pay for three friends to attend two political fundraisers during Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, but denied doing so under Low’s instruction.
The musician alleged that he was never told by his attorney George Higgenbotham – who has pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme – that it was required by law to register as a foreign agent, after failing to do so.
The Fugees star also claimed that he passed information to the FBI regarding China’s desire to have Chinese billionaire and dissident Guo Wengui extradited, amid concerns that Guo was ‘allegedly a criminal rapist’, stating that he ‘thought it was something the FBI should know’.
‘Mr Michel sought to use his celebrity and access to influence US government officials on behalf of undisclosed foreign interests,’ said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G Olsen.
‘This is an affront to the rule of law, and we will use the full range of tools at our disposal to hold accountable those who would covertly aid foreign actors seeking to interfere with our democratic system of government.’
Michel could face up to 20 years in jail for his convictions, which include conspiracy, concealment of material facts, making false entries in record, witness tampering and serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign power. A sentencing date is yet to be set.
Speaking outside the court with his client by his side, Michel’s attorney said: ‘We are extremely disappointed in that result but are very, very confident in the ultimate outcome of this case.
‘If we do move to a sentencing hearing I remain very confident we will certainly appeal this case. This is not over.’
Harry A Lidsky, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General Cyber Investigations Office, said that the rapper ‘played a central role in a wide-ranging conspiracy’.
‘The defendant brazenly conspired to help a foreign national launder millions of dollars in illegitimate campaign contributions into the 2012 U.S. presidential election,’ Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division stated.