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Pras Michel, the former Grammy-winning rapper from hip-hop band the Fugees, may face up to 20 years in prison for his involvement in a perplexing scheme that transformed him into a covert lobbyist for China along with an intricate web of players, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and former Presidents Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
“Michel was the unlikely agent of flamboyant Malaysian businessman and fugitive Low Taek Jho, who paid the rapper to wield influence from the corridors of Washington D.C. to the mansions of Hollywood,” the UK’s Daily Mail reported on Friday.
“Michel, who netted $88 million through the scheme, was found guilty on Wednesday of ten counts, including conspiracy and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. He was paid with money Low allegedly embezzled from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund,” the report continued.
The rapper was found to have illicitly directed funds towards political causes, including Obama’s 2012 election campaign. Additionally, he attempted to convince high-ranking officials in the Trump administration to terminate a federal investigation into Low and to expel a Chinese billionaire dissident. He was convicted by a federal jury after a bombshell trial which included testimony from DiCaprio and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the report added.
During the 1990s, The Fugees, comprised of Michel, Wyclef Jean, and Lauryn Hill, were at the peak of their popularity, achieving the same level of stardom and recognition as Michael Jackson. Their second album, The Score, claimed the top spot on the Billboard 200 and won the Grammy for best rap album in 1997. It produced numerous chart-topping hits around the world, resulting in the group becoming millionaires.
However, by 2012, Michel’s financial situation and fame had dwindled. Justice Department attorney Nicole Lockhart stated during his trial’s opening that Michel “needed money and was willing to do anything to get it.”
Michel and Low first met in 2006, the report said. Between 2012 and 2017, Low paid him $88 million to function as a straw donor and lobbyist for Low’s interests. The rapper covertly aided Low in directing funds into then-president Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign through shell companies, concealing the origins of the donations.
Additionally, Michel lobbied in 2017 to assist the Chinese government in retrieving dissident billionaire Guo Wengui, who was a friend of President Donald Trump’s political strategist Steve Bannon. Michel also participated in advocating for the government to abandon an investigation into Low regarding his prominent role in stealing billions of dollars from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund. the outlet added.
He faced charges of money laundering, campaign finance violations, serving as an unregistered agent for China, concealing and falsifying records, witness tampering, and making false statements. Michel and his legal team claimed that he was unaware that his actions were illegal, the Daily Mail noted further.
During Michel’s trial, a key moment occurred in early April when DiCaprio testified about his association with Low, fittingly making it a blockbuster moment. Low partially financed The Wolf of Wall Street, which was directed by Martin Scorsese and grossed over $400 million at the box office in 2013.
The actor, who is not under suspicion for any illegal actions, informed the jurors that he met Low in 2010 and was present at numerous lavish parties hosted by the financier. Low’s parties, held at upscale nightclubs and luxury yachts, were attended by A-listers like Alicia Keys, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears. Low’s influence was so extensive that Spears once emerged from a cake to offer him birthday wishes.
“I understood [Low] to be a huge businessman with many different connections in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia… He was a prodigy in the business world and ultra-successful,” DiCaprio testified in court.
As for the American political connection, “Michel allegedly took large sums of dirty money from Low then donated the cash through straw donors to Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign,” the Daily Mail reports.
“Michel was also charged over attempts to convince the Trump administration to drop an investigation into Low. He also tried to convince senior department officials to have billionaire Chinese dissident Guo Wengui deported to China,” the report said.