Fugees Rapper Pras Faces Trial Over $100 Million Political Conspiracy Case Linked to International Fugitive

·3 min read

Prosecutors tell the courtroom that "this is a case about foreign money, influence and concealment"

Andrew Harnik/AP/Shutterstock  Prakazrel "Pras" Michel arrives at court Thursday
Andrew Harnik/AP/Shutterstock Prakazrel "Pras" Michel arrives at court Thursday

Authorities claim ex-Fugees rapper Prakazrel "Pras" Michel used $100 million to attempt to influence high-ranking U.S. officials in a wide-ranging political conspiracy funded by a Malaysian fugitive who is accused of masterminding one of the world's largest financial crimes.

Prosecutor Nicole Lockhart made the accusations during opening statements on Thursday as the trial against Michel, 50, began. The Grammy winner faces 11 criminal charges including conspiracy and witness tampering. Michel has denied the allegations against him.

"This is a case about foreign money, influence and concealment," Ms. Lockhart told the Washington courtroom on Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

Authorities claim Michel was given more than $100 million by Malaysian financier Jho Low. Funds were allegedly used in an "unregistered backchannel campaign" in 2017 to influence President Donald Trump officials to drop an investigation into Low, 41 (also known as Low Taek Jho).

Low, who is currently an international fugitive, is suspected of embezzling $4.5 billion from Malaysia's 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, the Washington Post reports. It is believed to be one of the largest financial crimes ever recorded.

Related:Leonardo DiCaprio Willingly Returned Gifted Oscar to Federal Authorities Amid 1MDB Investigation

Michael Loccisano/Getty
Michael Loccisano/Getty

Michel is also accused of involvement in a Chinese government influence campaign that had pushed for the Trump administration to expatriate a Chinese dissident, Guo Wengui, who had fled to the U.S.

Another charge alleges Michel funneled millions of Low's cash into President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign through contributions that, on the surface, looked legitimate. However, they concealed the true source of the money.

"The defendant wanted money and was willing to break any laws necessary to get paid," Lockhart said.

Michel's lawyers did not make opening remarks at Thursday's court session, but have previously maintained he is innocent and "extremely disappointed" in the accusations, The Associated Press reports.

Michel's fame was at its height when The Fugees won two Grammy Awards for 1996's album The Score. But Lockhart told the court the musician was "looking for other ways to be paid" after his entertaining career had dwindled. That's when he linked up with Low, whom the prosecutor said wanted to "get close to the rich and famous."

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Low has ties with a series of A-list celebrities — including Leonardo DiCaprio — who could potentially be called to testify at Michel's trial.

Low helped finance The Wolf of Wall Street and gifted DiCaprio with Marlon Brando's Best Actor Oscar for 1954's On the Waterfront.

DiCaprio handed the gift to authorities during their investigation into the 1MDB scandal. Supermodel Miranda Kerr was also the recipient of gifts from Low, including a see-through grand piano.

Former Trump officials are also expected to give testimony at the trial, which is underway at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

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