Former Fugees rapper, Prakazrel ‘Pras’ Michel has been convicted on criminal charges that he conspired with a Malaysian financier to orchestrate a series of foreign lobbying campaigns aimed at influencing the US government under two presidents.
The Grammy-winning artist and former member of the Fugees faced multiple counts over the failed conspiracy to help Malaysian businessman Jho Low and the Chinese government gain access to US officials, including former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
The Grammy-winning rapper from the 1990s hip-hop group was charged with 10 counts of crimes including acting as an unregistered foreign agent of China, witness tampering, and falsifying campaign finance records. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges
The defence argued Michel simply wanted to make money and got bad legal advice as he reinvented himself in the world of politics.
His trial featured high-profile witnesses including Leonardo DiCaprio and former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Michel’s lawyer David Kenner said he was “extremely disappointed” by the verdict, but remains hopeful the charges could be dismissed by the judge.
No sentencing date has been set.
Michel first met Low in 2006, when the businessman was dropping huge sums of money and hobnobbing with the likes of Paris Hilton.
He helped finance Hollywood films, including The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio testified Low had appeared to him as a legitimate businessman and had mentioned wanting to donate to Mr. Obama’s campaign
Michel also testified in his own defence and said Low wanted a picture with Mr. Obama in 2012 and was willing to pay millions of dollars to get it.
Michel said he received $20 million from Low to help him get the photo and used some of the money to pay for friends to attend fundraising events. No one had ever told him that was illegal, he said.
Prosecutors said Michel was donating the money on Low’s behalf, and later tried to lean on the straw donors – a person who illegally uses another person’s money to make a political contribution in their own name – with texts from burner phones to keep them from talking to investigators.
After the election of Donald Trump, prosecutors say Michel again took millions to halt an investigation into allegations Low masterminded a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions from the Malaysian state investment fund known as 1MDB.
Low, who also faces separate federal charges in New York that he embezzled $4.5 billion from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, remains at large.
Michel also got paid to try to persuade the US to extradite back to China a government critic suspected of crimes there without registering as a foreign agent, prosecutors said.
On that charge, the defence pointed to testimony from Mr. Sessions, who was Mr. Trump’s top law enforcement officer until he resigned in 2018.
Mr. Sessions said he had been aware the Chinese government wanted the extradition but did not know Michel. The rapper’s ultimately futile efforts to arrange a meeting on the topic did not seem improper, the former attorney general said.