The Justice Department on Friday charged a prominent rapper and a Malaysian financier with illegally funneling foreign campaign contributions into the 2012 presidential election — the latest reverberation from a sprawling U.S. investigation of corruption in the Malaysian government.
In a four-count indictment, prosecutors alleged that Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, who rose to fame in the 1990s as a member of the hip-hop group Fugees, and Low Taek Jho, a Malaysian financier previously been charged in the investigation, conspired to defraud the U.S. government, moving more than $21 million in overseas funds and funneling a portion into the election.
The indictment alleged Michel paid about $865,000 to 20 donors so they could contribute to a presidential fundraising committee and hide the true source of the money, and further directed more than $1 million to a different, independent expenditure committee.
The committees are identified only as “Political Committee A” and “Political Committee B,” and the candidate they were meant to benefit is listed as “Candidate A.” But the indictment suggests “Candidate A” was former President Obama, because Low at the time wanted “to attend events at the White House with Candidate A,” and the election at issue was in 2012.
Barry Pollack, Michel’s lawyer, said in a statement: “Mr. Michel is extremely disappointed that so many years after the fact the government would bring charges related to 2012 campaign contributions. Mr. Michel is innocent of these charges and looks forward to having the case heard by a jury.”
A spokesman for Low said in a statement: “Mr. Low is innocent — and he is presumed innocent under U.S. law. The allegations against Mr. Low have no basis in fact: Mr. Low has never made any campaign contributions directly or indirectly in the U.S. and he unequivocally denies any involvement in or knowledge of the alleged activities.”
A spokesman for Obama did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The Malaysian corruption case began as an exploration of Malaysian officials pilfering billions from a development fund for the country known as “1MDB,” but its offshoots have been wide-ranging and unpredictable.
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.
Prosecutors alleged in a civil forfeiture complaint last year that Michel and a former Justice Department official helped move money to fund a lobbying effort aimed at ending the investigation, and they indicated that Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy also was involved. 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, and people familiar with the matter confirmed it is him. Broidy has not been charged.
Low, who has long been at the center of the case, was indicted in federal court in New York last year and accused of conspiring to launder billions of dollars that prosecutors suspect was stolen from the fund.