A former Justice Department employee admitted Friday to aiding a plot to secretly fund a lobbying effort involving a prominent rapper and an investment firm owner that prosecutors said was aimed at ending U.S. law enforcement’s investigation of a Malaysian government corruption scandal.
George Higginbotham, 46, who worked as a senior congressional affairs specialist for the Justice Department from July 2016 to August 2018, pleaded guilty to illicitly facilitating the transfer of tens of millions of dollars into the United States to finance the lobbying effort, which unsuccessfully tried to shut down the ongoing probe into embezzlement and bribery surrounding a Malaysian state development fund, according to court filings.
At least one participant in the lobbying campaign contemplated what to say in meetings with unnamed Trump administration officials, according to the filings.
Among the players, the Justice Department said in court papers, was onetime Fugees member and rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, though he has not been publicly charged with any crimes. The filing also alleged that an investment firm owner who had complained “his company was the victim of a cyber hacking incident” took part in the lobbying effort. Prosecutors did not name the man, whom they identified as “Individual No. 1,” but the description of him in court papers matches that of veteran GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who earlier this year filed a lawsuit about his hacked emails. The Washington Post previously reported Broidy was under investigation in the case.
According to the filing, Michel hired Individual No. 1’s wife’s law firm for advice on the Malaysia matter. Broidy’s lawyers told the Wall Street Journal in March that the musician hired the firm of Broidy’s wife, Robin Rosenzweig.
Defense attorneys for Higginbotham did not immediately return a message seeking comment. A representative for Michel declined to comment.
Chris Clark, a lawyer for Broidy, said, “We have no comment. As far as I know, my client is not named in any way in the documents. Please use great care in any assumptions you make which sound baseless.”
During the 2016 campaign, Broidy, a Los Angeles-based investor, helped corral big donors to support President Trump’s campaign. After the election, he was appointed to serve as a national deputy chairman for the Republican National Committee.
In April, Broidy 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 personal attorney, Michael Cohen — another RNC fundraiser — helped arrange the settlement, Broidy acknowledged at the time.
The sprawling Malaysia bribery case — which has come to be known by the shorthand “1MDB” for the development fund over which it is focused — has drawn many headlines over the years as investigators have traced the money they believe was pilfered by Malaysian government officials and their associates.
Prosecutors in the United States notably sought to seize New York City penthouses, Hollywood and Beverly Hills mansions, a private jet and even 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, investigators have appeared to be focusing on activities aimed at influencing the posture of U.S. officials toward the case. In a complaint filed Friday seeking nearly $74 million in forfeiture, prosecutors alleged that a Malaysian businessman named Low Taek Jho had funneled tens of millions of dollars to the United States to lobby high-level government officials to influence the ongoing investigations and related proceedings over whether his assets could be seized. Low and others were indicted in New York on Nov. 1.
Higginbotham, the Justice Department employee, admitted that he assisted that effort — though he had no role in the investigation, and the department said in a statement that he “failed to influence any aspect” of it.
Higginbotham also admitted that the lobbying had another purpose — to persuade high-level U.S. government officials to have a foreign national removed from the United States and sent back to his country of origin.
The Justice Department did not identify that person in Friday’s filing, but investigators have been scrutinizing a plan that Broidy allegedly developed to try to persuade the Trump government to extradite Chinese exile Guo Wengui back to his home country, The Post previously reported.
The New York Times previously reported that Broidy drafted a plan to enlist Emirati officials to pressure the United States to turn over Guo. In a statement to The Times, Broidy said he “never had a strategy or plan regarding Mr. Guo nor was there any compensation given or even discussed.”
Prosecutors alleged that Higginbotham, with Michel, opened accounts at U.S. financial institutions to funnel Low’s money to the United States. The DOJ official then crafted fake loan and consulting documents “in order to deceive banks and other regulators about the true source and purpose of the money” for the lobbying effort. They said Michel then disbursed the funds for the lobbying effort.
Individual No. 1, prosecutors alleged, refused to be paid directly by Low, but ultimately agreed to take about $8 million from Michel, who prosecutors said acted as an “intermediary.”
They alleged that in March 2017, Low offered to pay another $75 million “success fee” as part of a contract with the law firm of Individual No. 1’s wife, if the 1MDB case was “resolved” within 180 days. Details of those negotiations were previously reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Clark, Broidy’s attorney, told The Post in August that “Broidy has never agreed to work for, been retained by nor been compensated by any foreign government for any interaction with the United States government, ever. Any implication to the contrary is a lie.”
According to details in court papers, the investment firm owner allegedly offered the lobbying campaign strategic advice and the use of his name.
In August 2017, for example, Individual No. 1 received from his assistant apparent talking points for a Malaysian official who expected to meet with high-level U.S. officials, court papers indicate. One talking point, prosecutors said, advised the Malaysian to tell the U.S. official he knew Individual No. 1.
The talking points contemplated sending Malaysia’s attorney general ahead of a planned visit by the Malaysian official in September. That month, then-Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak visited the White House.
Clark has previously told the Wall Street Journal that at no time did Broidy, his wife, “or anyone acting on their behalf, discuss Mr. Low’s case with President Trump, any member of his staff, or anyone at the U.S. Department of Justice.”
He said Michel had engaged Rosenzweig’s firm “to provide strategic advice as part of a broader team to Mr. Low.”
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.