The guilty verdict came through in the early hours Malaysia time from the Federal Court in Washington, which has been hearing the case against the Fugees star, Pras Michel.
The rap singer stood accused of laundering no less than $100 million on behalf of Jho Low in the US – much of it into an illegal attempt to influence two Presidents on behalf of both Najib Razak and China.
According to reports, Michel was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the US, witness tampering and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. As a result he faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison (far more than the Malaysian prime minister himself, who has been fighting to overturn his own 12 year sentence for orchestrating the entire affair).
It was Sarawak Report which back in 2015 first raised the alert over Jho Low’s efforts at influencing US policy-makers on behalf of Najib Razak.
We’d identified the mysterious US businessman, Frank White, who scooped a lucrative ‘solar power joint venture project’ with 1MDB in 2014, as none other than President Obama’s chief fundraiser.
Later we spotted that proceeds from that Malaysian contract were being transferred into Democrat political campaigns in an apparent case of illegitimate foreign funding. Our reports saw an almost immediate closing down of Frank White’s engagements with Malaysia, but the US authorities began investigations.
By the time the matter came to court a massive operation was uncovered in which it emerged the Obama Presidential campaign had itself been flooded with illegal Malaysian funding.
The cash had largely been passed from Jho Low through Pras Michel’s own bank accounts before the star paid on tens of thousands of dollars to a network of his friends, who in turn had agreed to act as ‘straw donors’, purchasing tickets for fundraisers and donating to the Obama campaign to disguise the foreign origin of the money.
Highlights of the trial included the claim by Pras Michel that Jho Low had paid him $20 million to arrange a photo with Barak and Michel Obama. Apart from that he declared he saw the payments a “free money” and denied he directed any of it on Jho’s instructions.
It also emerged how even larger sums were later paid to Trump administration associates in an attempt to influence the DOJ into dropping its investigations (details of which were again first broken by Sarawak Report in 2017).
In all this Pras Michel played the role of a crucial celebrity front for Jho Low who even set him up, together with Frank White, as the manager of a half billion dollar ‘investment fund’ using money apparently sourced from 1MDB and its Abu Dhabi partner in deceit, the Aabar sovereign wealth fund.
By the time the matter came to trial there were few secrets left. This was because Pras Michel had taken a lonely stance in pleading not guilty to the ten related criminal charges. Several of his fellow conspirators had long since acknowledged their guilt including the Deputy Chairman of the National Republican Committee, Elliot Broidy, who had agreed to receive over a hundred million in bribes and bogus contracts in return to advocating the DOJ drop its investigations into 1MDB.
Broidy was pardoned by his boss Donald Trump just before he left office, however a lesser figure who assisted in the conspiracy, the Hawaiian lobbyist Nancy Lum Davis who also pleaded guilty, has been sentenced to two years in jail.
Pras Michel chose to try his luck by largely pleading ignorance during his two week trial where he had agreed to take the stand to explain he had no idea that foreign donations are banned in US politics and elections.
He also argued he had considered the money given by Jho Low was his to do what he liked with, which just happened to involve the said donations. Undisclosed lawyers had advised him that nothing he was doing was illegal, the singer claimed.
However, it was the detour into geopolitics and assisting China’s political agenda in Washington that probably most told against the singer. Having turned to China in the complex operation to get Najib off the hook over 1MDB’s debts, Jho soon found himself running double errands not just for the beleaguered Malaysian PM, but also for the Chinese secret service in return for helping Najib out.
Broidy, Lum Davis and now Pras Michel have all been implicated in the efforts orchestrated by Jho on behalf of the Chinese to attempt to persuade the Department of Justice to agree to extradite Miles Guo a wanted fugitive from China who had taken refuge in the US.
The US itself has now arrested Guo for separate grounds of fraud just last month.
Pras Michel’s seeming reckless willingness to engage in such antics on behalf of his friend, by then a known international fugitive from his own authorities in the US in return for huge financial rewards plainly found no favour with the jury on all these counts.
As with Roger Ng from Goldman Sachs, and indeed Najib himself, Pras Michel’s efforts to sidestep the blame over the massive body of crime associated with 1MDB has failed. Sentencing awaits him as he joins the growing list of those who have been criminally convicted in this affair.