U.S. prosecutors have brought additional charges against Jho Low, the Malaysian national accused of looting the 1MDB wealth fund, for campaign-finance violations related to President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election effort.
According to an indictment unsealed Friday in Washington, Low transferred $21.6 million to Pras Michel, a musician and film producer, who spread approximately $865,000 among 20 people. These straw donors, in turn, gave the cash to a presidential fundraising committee without indicating it had come from a foreign source. Michel also sent more than $1 million to an independent election committee, prosecutors said.
The charges, against both men, show a wide-ranging effort by the Malaysian financier to win influence in the U.S. In an indictment last year, Low and Michel weren’t charged but were identifiable as co-conspirators trying to influence the Trump administration as the Justice Department investigated the 1MDB scandal.
Now, the Trump Justice Department says Low’s influence-buying goes back to the previous administration.
During Obama’s re-election campaign, Michel and Jho Low’s father attended a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., and sat on each side of Obama, according to the indictment.
According to Higginbotham’s plea, he created the false paper trail at the “direction” of Michel. Higginbotham understood that Michel and Low created these false companies because no U.S. bank would accept funds from Low, who had been identified by the Justice Department in 2016 as the architect of the 1MDB fraud.
Michel, 46, is a musician, actor and producer of records and films who rose to prominence in the 1990s as a member of the Fugees, a hip-hop group that also included Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean. He appeared in and produced several films, including a documentary on homelessness in Los Angeles. His 1998 debut album, “Ghetto Supastar,” included a memorable cameo.
“Hi, this is Donald Trump, and I have no doubt that you are going to be a big success,” the future president said in one interlude. “I hope very soon you’re going to be in the leagues with me. So good luck, man.”
By 2012, Michel was drawn into the orbit of Low, whose parties attracted Hollywood producers, A-list actor Leonardo DiCaprio and music stars including Swizz Beatz and his wife, Alicia Keys, according to the book “Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood and the World.”
Similar charges against Michel have emerged before. In 2016, the Federal Election Commission dismissed charges that Michel made an illegal contribution by funneling $875,000 through a limited-liability company he controlled. The LLC was listed as contributing to the super PAC called Black Men Vote.