The Justice Department last week alleged in a civil forfeiture complaint that Michel helped move money to fund a lobbying campaign, which unsuccessfully tried to shut down the ongoing probe into embezzlement and bribery surrounding a Malaysian state development fund.
“I have never conspired to commit any crime, nor defraud any organization, in this case or otherwise,” Michel said in a statement. “It is a shame that anyone’s name should be dragged through the mud like this, particularly another Black man who uses his voice and influence to effect change.”
The accusations against Michel became public last week, when the Justice Department announced that one of its former employees — George Higginbotham, who worked as a senior congressional affairs specialist — pleaded guilty to illicitly facilitating the transfer of tens of millions of dollars into the United States to finance the lobbying effort.
In a related forfeiture complaint seeking nearly $74 million, prosecutors alleged that Michel worked with Higginbotham to open accounts at U.S. financial institutions to finance the campaign, and that Michel disbursed money to those involved in a lobbying effort.
Nicole Navas, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said “The complaint speaks for itself.”
The Malaysian corruption probe — known by the shorthand “1MDB” for the economic development fund on which it focused — has drawn many headlines over the years as investigators traced the money they believe was pilfered by government officials and their associates. Notably, prosecutors in the United States sought to seize some future proceeds from the award-winning movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” that they said were connected to the case, and authorities in Malaysia charged their country’s former prime minister with money laundering.
More recently, as U.S. investigators have turned their attention to efforts to short circuit their work, the cast of characters has grown more interesting.
In addition to Michel and Higginbotham, prosecutors indicated that Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy was involved in the lobbying effort. Officials did not name Broidy in the filing but described conduct by an unidentified “Individual No. 1” that matches information contained in previously published reports about Broidy — including that Michel had hired his wife’s law firm for advice on the Malaysia matter, and that Broidy had complained about his emails having been hacked and released to the media.
Broidy, a Los Angeles-based investor, helped corral big donors to support President Trump’s campaign, and after the election, he was appointed to serve as a deputy chairman for the Republican National Committee. In April, he resigned from his RNC position in the wake of a report that he had paid a former Playboy model $1.6 million in exchange for her silence about a sexual affair.
Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen — another RNC fundraiser — helped arrange the settlement, Broidy acknowledged at the time.
The lobbying effort, prosecutors said, was engineered by a Malaysian businessman named Low Taek Jho, who was indicted in the 1MDB case last month. Prosecutors alleged in the forfeiture complaint that Broidy refused to be paid directly by Low, but ultimately agreed to take about $8 million from Michel, whom they said acted as an “intermediary.”
Barry Pollack, Michel’s attorney, said Tuesday night there were “allegations or insinuations that Mr. Michel did something improper or illegal, and that is absolutely not the case.” He said Michel had been contacted by law enforcement, but “has consistently said that he has done absolutely nothing wrong, much less anything illegal.”
“He is not in a position to give information about wrongdoing by anyone, because he doesn’t have any insight into anybody doing anything improper,” Pollack said.
Chris Clark, Broidy’s attorney, has noted Broidy was not named in the forfeiture complaint. He has previously asserted that Broidy “never agreed to work for, been retained by nor been compensated by any foreign government for any interaction with the United States government,” and claimed he never met with “President Trump, any member of his staff, or anyone at the U.S. Department of Justice” to discuss Low’s case.
Clark said he was not immediately available to talk Wednesday and requested a copy of Michel’s statement. Broidy, who is not charged with any crime, is described in court papers as offering the lobbying campaign strategic advice and the use of his name.