Fugees rapper Pras Michel found guilty of illegal lobbying

Prakazrel "Pras" Michel,  a member of the 1990s hip-hop group the Fugees arrives at federal court   (AP)
Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, a member of the 1990s hip-hop group the Fugees arrives at federal court (AP)

Fugees rapper Pras Michel is facing jail after being found guilty of conspiring in a plot to influence the US governments of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

The musician turned political activist, 50, was accused of receiving more than £80 million ($100m) from Malaysian billionaire Jho Low to be funnelled into US politics.

Michel, a Grammy winner with Fugees bandmates Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill, acted as Low’s representative in lobbying efforts on behalf of the Chinese government, and he was also convicted of campaign finance violations, witness tampering, and lying to banks.

He now faces up to 20 years in prison after being found guilty of ten charges, but has vowed to appeal the verdicts.

The four-week trial in Washington DC featured testimony from Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio and former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as jurors heard evidence of Low’s lavish lifestyle with celebrities.

Stars including Alicia Keys, Paris Hilton, and Miranda Kerr attended parties thrown by Mr Low, while Britney Spears once jumped out of a cake at a party to mark the tycoon’s birthday.

Low, who is on the run and believed to be living in China, is accused of stealing billions from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, using the money to befriend celebrities and wield influence.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

Pras Michel had great success with rap group the Fugees (PUBLICITY PICTURE)
Pras Michel had great success with rap group the Fugees (PUBLICITY PICTURE)

DiCaprio told the trial he met Mr Low in Las Vegas in 2010 and attended "a multitude of lavish parties" on yachts and nightclubs alongside other celebrities, actors, and musicians including Jamie Foxx and Jonah Hill.

He recounted a time in 2012 when they rang in New Year in two different time zones using a private jet chartered by Low from Australia to Las Vegas.

Low funded DiCaprio’s 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street, appearing in the credits for the Oscar nominated film, and the star gave evidence that he believed Low was a “legitimate person wanting to invest in the movie”.

The actor also recalled the tycoon mentioning that he was planning a "significant contribution" of between $20-30 million to the Democratic party during Obama’s presidency.

"I basically said ‘wow, that’s a lot of money’”, DiCaprio said.

Michel admitted pocketing millions of dollars while helping Low, but the rapper insisted during his trial that had received bad legal advice when going into politics and genuinely believed he was helping the US.

He told the court Low had wanted a picture with Obama and was willing to pay $20 million to get it.

He said he was paid to invite celebrity friends to politics fundraisers, unaware that this was illegal according to campaigning laws.

After Trump’s election, Michel was involved in a plan to pressure US investigators into dropping an investigation into alleged money laundering by Low, as well as lobbying the government over the extradition of billionaire and dissident Guo Wengui to China.

essions told the court he recalled a meeting about the possible extradition, but could not recall Michel playing a part in the incident. Michel remained silent as he left court, but his lawyer David Kenner, said they planned to file an appeal.

“We are extremely disappointed in that result but are very, very confident in the ultimate outcome of this case”, he said. “This is not over - I remain very, very confident that we will ultimately prevail in this matter."