Rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel of the Fugees has said he received $20m from Malaysian financier Jho Low to help him get a photo with former United States President Barack Obama.
Michel faces criminal conspiracy, foreign lobbying and campaign finance charges for allegedly plotting with Low to attempt to influence the administrations of Obama and former President Donald Trump.
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Testifying in his own defence before a jury in Washington, DC on Tuesday, the Grammy winner said Low, who is now a fugitive accused of embezzling $4.5bn from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, did not direct him to make campaign donations with the money for the photo.
Michel said he used some of the funds for three friends to attend $40,000-a-plate fundraisers for Obama. Michel said he did not know it was improper to do this.
“When you received the money from Jho Low, you used it to make political contributions,” federal prosecutor John Keller said in a Washington court.
“No,” Michel responded, defying expectations by testifying at the trial. “Once he gave me the money, it was my discretion how I spent the money because it’s my money.”
He described the funds from Low as “free money”.
It is illegal for foreigners to donate to US election campaigns as well as paying someone else to make a campaign contribution.
Michel is accused of involvement with Low in three schemes for which prosecutors say he was paid millions of dollars.
In the first, prosecutors claim Michel violated federal election laws by funnelling about $2m from Low into Obama’s 2012 campaign coffers and masking the source of the funds by using straw donors.
Michel is also accused of seeking to convince the Trump-era Justice Department to drop its civil and criminal investigations into Low over the 1MDB scandal as well as of trying to lobby the US on behalf of Beijing to send Chinese businessman Guo Wengui to China.