Pras Michel Makes Bold Decision to Testify in His Own Federal Conspiracy Trial
The Fugees’ Pras Michel discussed his relationship with Malaysian financier Jho Low and said he voluntarily met with FBI agents regarding China’s efforts to extradite a prominent dissident after making the bold decision to testify at his own federal trial on Tuesday, April 18.
It’s rare for defendants to take the stand at their own trials, but Michel reportedly told the judge he chose to do so “after consulting with my attorneys and the universe” (per Mother Jones reporter Dan Friedman on Twitter).
Michel has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and falsifying records. The charges are tied to Low’s alleged exploits, with the financier accused of stealing $4.5 billion from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund. (Low is named as a co-defendant in the case but is currently a fugitive.)
Prosecutors claim Michel pocketed millions from helping Low run foreign-influence campaigns against the U.S. government during both the Obama and Trump administrations. As Rolling Stone outlined in a recent feature, Michel is accused of funneling money from Low to Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, as well as lobbying Donald Trump’s administration to drop an investigation into Low and extradite dissident Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui.
Michel has always maintained his innocence, telling Rolling Stone, “What benefit would I get trying to break laws? It’s not worth it to me. I’m like a pariah now. I’ve got friends who won’t talk to me because they think there’s a satellite in orbit listening to them.”
As Bloomberg reports, Michel told jurors that he served as a “celebrity surrogate” for Low, saying the financier paid him $20 million to help him get a photo with Obama in 2012. According to Michel, Low could use his money to drum up all the luxuries he wanted, but his reputation as a party boy made him “too hot” for political fundraisers.
“They didn’t want the optics at that time,” Michel said. “At that point, Jho Low was a party guy — Vegas, champagne, parties with Paris Hilton. The campaign just didn’t want that.”
That’s where Michel — who met Low in 2006 at a nightclub — came in. Michel said he “basically asked for $1 million to begin to think about how” he might get Low that long-sought-after photo with Obama. That price tag ballooned to $20 million over nine months, with Low eventually securing the photo at a White House Christmas party.
Michel, however, insisted that he never made any political donations on Low’s behalf. For instance, he claimed that when he paid for three friends from Haiti to attend a $40,000-per-plate Obama fundraiser in June 2012, he used his own money (per Law360’s Katie Buehler). Michel also said he ran his activities by his lawyers and accountants to ensure everything he did was on the level.
Later in his testimony, Michel addressed his alleged efforts to get the U.S. to extradite Guo, the dissident Chinese billionaire (and close Steve Bannon associate). Along with denying that he acted as an agent for China in this matter, Michel said he voluntarily met with FBI agents on multiple occasions to discuss Guo and three Americans being held hostage in China.
“I took it upon myself to report because I thought the FBI should know,” Michel said.
As Michel previously discussed with Rolling Stone, he met Low at a moment when he was eager to get into politics, seeing it as “a way to try to help people.” But that perspective has, unsurprisingly, been muddied.
“I was one of those people who was just dabbling. I never thought I would be full-time into politics,” he said. “I realized politics is not for me. The problem with politics is this: It’s that the people within politics, they’re dirtier than the people who are not in politics.”
This story is developing…