Fugees artist Pras Michél was found guilty by a federal jury on Wednesday of charges including conspiracy and money laundering in connection with his involvement with a shadowy Malaysian businessman who is accused of embezzling more than $4.5 billion from a sovereign wealth fund. He is also charged with “acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.”
Michél was convicted in a Washington, D.C., court on all 10 counts against him, which also include campaign finance violations for funneling money into President Barack Obama‘s re-election campaign from Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho — who is also known as Jho Low — back in 2012 and trying to influence the U.S. government on behalf of China.
Michél testified his intent was to secure a photo-op for the financier for a fee, not to break the law. He told the jury Low contacted him for help, considering he was an avid supporter of Obama and had met the former president.
The Grammy-Award-winning artist also testified that he paid his friends approximately $20 million so they could attend Obama’s presidential fundraiser to have dinner and secure Low a photo-op. He met Low in 2006 at a nightclub in New York.
Related: Pras Files to Get Back $37.5 Million Seized From Him by Feds in Money-Laundering Probe
The Fugees rapper’s testimony also revealed that 10 percent of the funds went towards paying his friends and that he did not know he was any violating campaign laws. In his own defense, Michél testified that he considered the funds he received from Mr. Low to be “free money.” Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Leonardo DiCaprio also testified at the trial.
Low is on the run after allegedly misappropriating more than $4.5 billion from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad wealth fund (1MDB) to shell companies co-owned by the financier. Michél said the funds he paid his friends with were 100 percent his, not Low’s.
Low reportedly used the misappropriated funds to purchase real estate in Los Angeles and New York. Some of the 1MDB funds were also spent in Hollywood on projects like the 2013 DiCaprio-led movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Michél’s attorney David Kenner said in his closing arguments that the Fugees artist was earning money with his celebrity status and that his being accused of doing anything illegal is “absurd.”
“This is all about a highly valuable photo,” said Kenner. “He was trying to make money. … It is not illegal.”
Pras was also found guilty of trying to influence the Trump administration to extradite a national from China.
According to Mother Jones, Michél wrote to them back in 2017 and pitched an article about the government denying a request to extradite a Chinese billionaire accused of sexual assault and living in New York City.
“The question is why is the FBI protecting Guo Wengui,” he allegedly wrote. “A Chinese illegal immigrant who lied on his US visa application for entry to the USA, is wanted for rape, kidnapping and a number of civil lawsuits in the millions of dollars, and has an Interpol red notice warrant out for his arrest?”
Also part of the investigation, Michél filed a claim to retrieve the $37.5 million he alleged was wrongfully taken by the U.S. government back in 2019. Prosecutors claimed that Michél received more than $100 million from Low to advocate for Guo Wengui’s extradition.
Michél claimed that he later told the authorities about Low because he thought he may be a criminal. He also said the $100 million was for a new media business start-up and that he didn’t receive the money from Low.
He denied that he acted as an agent for China during his testimony, and stated that he was an unofficial informant for the FBI, whom he met with on multiple occasions to discuss his interactions with Guo and three alleged Americans being held hostage in China.
“I took it upon myself to report because I thought the FBI should know,” Michél said in court.
Interestingly, while Guo was never extradited, he was indicted by the Department of Justice last month on federal charges of participating in A $1 billion fraud conspiracy.
Other celebs have also been held accountable for their involvement in the case. In 2018, Kimora Lee’s ex-husband Tim Leissner pled guilty to money laundering and violating of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He agreed to pay back the $47 million after he and other men were accused of stealing money from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.
Michél did not comment after the verdict but his attorney gave a statement noting their disappointment but emphasizing his intent to appeal based on the recording artists’ sentencing hearing.
“We are extremely disappointed in that result but are very, very confident in the ultimate outcome of this case,” said Kenner. “If we do move to a sentencing hearing I remain very confident we will certainly appeal this case. This is not over.”
Michél is now facing 20 years in prison. A date for sentencing has yet to be scheduled yet.