7:54am PT by Eriq Gardner
Judge Rejects Ex-Fugees Star's Challenge to U.S. Government $37 Million Bank Seizure
A D.C. federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government has made plausible claims that controversial Malaysian businessman Jho Low attempted to funnel more than $37 million into the country through bank accounts connected to ex-Fugees star Pras Michel. On Thursday, the judge rejected Michel's motion to dismiss a forfeiture complaint.
The Justice Department's attempt to seize the money came last November as part of its ongoing investigation into the alleged looting of the Malaysian public wealth fund called 1 Malaysian Development Berhad (1MDB).
In January, Michel made a claim on the funds and argued that the United States had failed to adequately allege that the rem property constituted proceeds of specified unlawful activity.
Then, in May, federal prosecutors brought criminal charges against Michel for allegedly conspiring to conceal foreign political contributions. According to the government, Low used Michel as a straw donor to influence American politicians seeking to bring him to justice for the 1MDB looting.
Michel has pleaded not guilty.
In a criminal case that perhaps should be attracting more attention given the hot climate concerning foreign political influence, Michel's attorneys have indicated that they plan to argue that the charges flout the First Amendment. A status conference is scheduled in the case Nov. 8, and the parties anticipate a trial that could last up to three weeks.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly decided yesterday that in connection with the seized $37 million, the government had adequately alleged that the money in Michel's accounts were proceeds of bank fraud and false statements, plus were traceable to a conspiracy designed to convince financial institutions to accept Jho Low's money before being disbursed in a lobbying campaign.
As more facts come out, Michel will have the opportunity to make a renewed challenge to the forfeiture.