Fugees rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel has been found guilty on 10 counts in the United States after a trial that featured high-profile witnesses such as Leonardo DiCaprio. Michel was accused of conspiring with the financier at the centre of Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal, Low Taek Jho, to illegally lobby the US government. The rapper was alleged to have funnelled money from Low to the 2012 reelection campaign of former US President Barack Obama and to have lobbied the Justice Department during former President Donald Trump’s tenure to drop investigations into Low’s alleged corruption. Michel was also accused of lobbying Washington on behalf of China to send dissident Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui back to China.
A jury in Washington, DC convicted Michel on all 10 counts he was charged with, including conspiracy, falsifying campaign finance records, witness tampering and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. The most serious charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Michel’s defence had argued that the Grammy-winning rapper had received bad legal advice and had simply wanted to make money.
Michel declined to comment after the verdict but his lawyer David Kenner told reporters he was “extremely disappointed” by the verdict and was confident it would be overturned on appeal. “I remain enormously confident that this case is not over and that we will ultimately prevail,” Kenner said.
Michel’s conviction followed a closely-watched trial that featured prominent witnesses including Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Trump-era Attorney General Jeff Sessions. DiCaprio, whose 2013 film Wolf of Wall Street is alleged to have been financed with money stolen from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, testified about Low’s lavish spending habits and connections during the trial, describing him as a “sort of prodigy in the business world.”
Low, who is now an international fugitive believed to be hiding in China, is alleged to have helped funnel billions of dollars stolen from 1MDB into luxury property, fine art and Hollywood films. Low faces charges in New York of embezzling $4.5bn and has maintained his innocence.
The case has highlighted the extent of corruption in Malaysia’s political and financial elite. The 1MDB scandal, which erupted in 2015, involved the misuse of public funds by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his associates. Razak was sentenced to 12 years in prison last year after being found guilty of seven charges related to the scandal.
The US Department of Justice has been investigating the 1MDB scandal since 2016 and has seized more than $1bn in assets allegedly bought with stolen money. The department has also charged several individuals, including Low, with money laundering and bribery.
The case against Michel is a reminder that even high-profile individuals can be held accountable for their actions. The verdict sends a message that the US government will not tolerate attempts to influence its policies through illegal means. It also highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in government and business. The 1MDB scandal has shown that corruption can have far-reaching consequences, not only for the individuals involved but also for the wider economy and society.