2:27pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Pras Michel Charged With Conspiring to Conceal Foreign Political Contributions
In the latest fallout from the 1MDB scandal, federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia have filed criminal charges against former Fugees rapper Pras Michel.
According to the indictment, Michel participated in a conspiracy to assist Malaysian financier Jho Low gain access to, and potentially influence, Barack Obama, during his 2012 re-election campaign. Michel is said to have used bank accounts and straw donors to make campaign contributions to Obama's presidential joint fundraising committee. As a result of these alleged actions, millions of dollars in foreign money were funneled into American politics, and the efforts to disguise the source of these contributions caused inaccurate statements to be submitted to the Federal Election Commission.
Low, a flamboyant financier who ingratiated himself into Hollywood circles with big spending, has been at the center of controversy ever since federal prosecutors in 2016 targeted the embezzlement of funds from a Malaysian public account known as 1 Malaysian Development Berhad (1MDB). The feds went after profits on the Oscar-nominated film The Wolf of Wall Street; a massive song catalog; Beverly Hills and New York City real estate; artwork by Van Gogh and Claude Monet; and a Bombardier jet, among other assets.
Last November, prosecutors charged Low, who remains at large, with conspiracy to launder money. They are now adding a charge related to the political donations. The Justice Department has also reportedly been probing whether any of Low's money went to a Trump PAC while those connected to the 1MDB scandal attempted to lobby the Trump administration to end the investigations.
A spokesperson for Low says he's innocent, adding Low "has never made any campaign contributions directly or indirectly in the U.S. and he unequivocally denies any involvement in or knowledge of the alleged activities.”
Michel has himself been caught up in this 1MDB fight for months.
After prosecutors brought a forfeiture action last autumn over $37 million in bank accounts traced to 1MDB, Michel staked a claim and argued that the government had failed to adequately allege that the property was the proceeds of specified unlawful activity.
The government has now taken a big step toward addressing such an alleged defect.
Michel pleaded not guilty to charges at his first court appearance in D.C. today. His attorney Barry Pollack told reporters, "Mr. Michel is extremely disappointed that so many years after the fact the government would bring charges related to 2012 campaign contributions. Mr. Michel is innocent of these charges and looks forward to having the case heard by a jury."