PRAS MICHEL, a Grammy-winning rapper turned political influencer, was convicted of conspiring to wage a back-channel lobbying campaign to end US probes of Malaysian tycoon Jho Low and get American authorities to extradite a dissident Chinese billionaire.
Federal jurors on Wednesday convicted Mr. Michel, 50, of other crimes, including conspiring to illegally funnel Low’s money into the campaign of President Barack Obama in 2012. Mr. Michel gambled by testifying in his own defense during the monthlong trial in Washington federal court, denying wrongdoing.
Mr. Michel showed no emotion as the foreperson declared him “guilty” on all 10 counts, and he faces as many as 20 years in prison on the most serious charge. The verdict in Washington was a stark downfall forMr. Michel, who rose to fame in 1990s with the Fugees, one of the best-selling hip-hop groups ever.
Prosecutors said Mr. Low paid more than $100 million to Michel in two plots. His conspirators lobbied President Donald Trump’s administration in 2017 to end US probes of Low’s alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars from the Malaysian development fund 1MDB. They also pushed to have Guo Wengui sent back to China from the US. Both efforts failed.
“Mr. Michel, he was greedy,” prosecutor Sean Mulryne argued to jurors on April 20. “In exchange for Low’s millions, Mr. Michel agreed to do Low’s bidding over six, seven years.”
Outside the courthouse, Michel attorney David Kenner said he will “certainly appeal” the verdict. “It’s not over,” he said. “We are very, very confident that we will ultimately prevail.”
US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly set no sentencing date, giving Mr. Michel until June 9 to contest the results of the trial.
Prosecutors said Pras began doing Low’s bidding in 2012, when Low wanted a photo with Obama during his reelection campaign. Low allegedly sent $21 million through shell companies to Michel. The rapper funneled $2 million through straw donors into Obama’s campaign and a super political action committee, Black Men Vote. Mr. Michel kept the balance, the US said.
Mr. Low was excluded from two Obama fundraisers because of the campaign’s concerns about his playboy image, but the tycoon got his photo with the president and his wife at a holiday party. US election law bars donations from foreign nationals and the reimbursement of straw donors.
Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio added a bit of celebrity pizazz to the proceedings. He testified he partied with Mr. Low, who told him he wanted to give $20 million to $30 million to the Democratic Party in 2012. Mr. Low also put $100 million into the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, which starred DiCaprio.
In 2017, Mr. Michel worked with others to try to squelch a US civil forfeiture lawsuit against Mr. Low and encourage Guo’s removal from the US, prosecutors said. For that, Ms.Low sent $100 million to Michel, who gave some to his confederates, prosecutors said.
The plotters included former Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy; former Justice Department attorney George Higginbotham, who moonlighted as Michel’s lawyer; and Nickie Lum Davis, a Hawaiian businessman. All three pleaded guilty but Trump pardoned Broidy. Higginbotham and Broidy testified as government witnesses.
Jurors heard that Michel and others met with Low in Thailand and China about lobbying to get the 1MDB case dropped. They also heard that Michel met in China and New York with Sun Lijun, the Chinese vice-minister of public security, who was pushing for the Guo extradition. Higginbotham also went into the Chinese embassy in Washington to discuss the case.
Mr. Michel was convicted of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) over his efforts to help Low; conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent of China and to commit money laundering; acting as an unregistered agent of Low; and as an agent of China in pushing for Guo’s removal.
In his testimony, Mr. Michel denied that he conspired with Mr. Low to funnel the tycoon’s money into Obama’s campaign. He said Mr. Low was willing to pay $20 million for a photo. He also denied he acted as an agent of China or knew he had to register with the US under FARA.
Jurors also convicted Mr. Michel of conspiring to make false statements to banks, including City National Bank, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup Inc., about the source and purpose of funds he got from Low. He was also convicted of witness tampering.
Mr. Low was charged with Mr. Michel in Washington federal court, and he was indicted separately in the Eastern District of New York, where he’s accused of conspiring to launder billions of dollars in illegal proceeds and paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes. In that case, the US alleges Mr. Low stole $1.42 billion from three bond transactions that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. arranged. Low is considered a fugitive and is believed to be in China.
In March, Guo was indicted in the Southern District of New York, where he’s accused in a $1-billion fraud case. He was an associate of Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist for Trump. — Bloomberg