Fugees' Pras Michel Found Guilty of Political Conspiracy

The US Justice Department determined the artist "sought to use his celebrity and access to influence US government officials on behalf of undisclosed foreign interests"

Photo: MiamiFilmFestival (Flickr)

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Apr 27, 2023

Fugees member Pras Michel has been found guilty by a federal jury of orchestrating undisclosed lobbying campaigns with the aid of a now-fugitive Malaysian financier aiming to influence the US government under two presidents, the country's Department of Justice has announced.

Yesterday (April 26), Michel — a founding member of the Grammy-winning trio who would later pursue business and politics — was charged with 10 counts of conspiracy, acting as an agent of a foreign government, witness tampering and falsifying campaign finance records.

Prosecutors accused Michel of attempting to influence the administrations of former US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump with Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho (a.k.a. Jho Low). Low also faces separate federal charges in New York regarding allegations he siphoned $4.5 billion from Malaysia's 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign wealth fund, one of the largest embezzlement schemes in history. Now wanted internationally, Low has maintained his innocence.

Testifying in his own defence, Michel said Low paid him $20 million over nine months to help the businessman secure a photo with Obama. Michel acknowledged that he used some of the money he received to pay for friends to attend fundraising events, telling the jury [via Reuters], "Once he gave me the money, it was my discretion how I spent the money because it's my money." Prosecutors say Michel masked the source of the money, as US federal election law prohibits foreign donations to domestic campaigns.

Prosecutors said that after the election of Donald Trump, Michel again took millions from Low to stop investigations into allegations that the businessman was the mastermind behind the 1MDB money laundering scheme, in addition to attempts at lobbying the US government on behalf of China to extradite Chinese billionaire and dissident Guo Wengui (a.k.a. Ho Wan Kwok, Miles Guo, and Miles Kwok) back to China without registering as a foreign agent.

Trial witnesses included Leonardo DiCaprio — the star of 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street, which was partially financed through a company linked to Low — and former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In his testimony, the actor shared how Low had appeared to be a legitimate businessman and mentioned wanting to donate to Obama's election campaign. Sessions — who was Donald Trump's top law enforcement officer until his 2018 resignation — testified that he'd been aware the Chinese government wanted the extradition, but did not know Michel.

The Department of Justice says Michel faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the top counts. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

The Associated Press reports that while Michel declined to comment after the verdict, his attorney David Kenner said he's "extremely disappointed" in the outcome of the case and plans to appeal, saying, "I remain very, very confident we will ultimately prevail."

In January 2022, Michel and his Fugees bandmates were forced to cancel a 25th anniversary tour commemorating the release of their debut album, 1994's Blunted on Reality, after the trek had already been postponed. It would have marked the first reunion for Michel, Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean since the mid-'00s.

Latest Coverage