Pras Michel, a member of the famous hip-hop group Fugees, has been convicted of a political conspiracy involving millions of dollars.
Born as Prakazrel Samuel Michel, he was found guilty of orchestrating an unregistered, back-channel campaign that aimed to influence the then-administration of the US President and the Department of Justice to drop the 1MDB investigation, which was related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal.
US prosecutors claimed that Michel received more than $100 million (£80m) from Malaysian billionaire Jho Low to sway American politics. Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, who was friends with Low, testified in the case as a witness but was not accused of any wrongdoing.
Michel was charged with conspiring with the financier to orchestrate illegal lobbying campaigns to influence the US government when Barack Obama and Donald Trump were in power.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A Polite Jr said that Michel engaged in an extensive conspiracy to use millions of dollars in foreign funds to engage in illegal back-channel lobbying and make unlawful campaign contributions.
According to the US Department of Justice, Michel conspired with several individuals to engage in undisclosed lobbying campaigns to have the 1MDB embezzlement investigation and forfeiture proceedings involving Low and others dropped and to have a Chinese national sent back to China.
During the trial, Michel claimed that the $20m (£16m) sum that Low paid him was to help the financier have a photo with Obama. Michel used some of the money to pay for three friends to attend two political fundraisers during Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign but denied doing so under Low’s instruction.
Michel alleged that he was never told by his attorney that it was required by law to register as a foreign agent, after failing to do so. He also passed information to the FBI regarding China’s desire to have Chinese billionaire and dissident Guo Wengui extradited, stating that he “thought it was something the FBI should know.”
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G Olsen said that Michel sought to use his celebrity and access to influence US government officials on behalf of undisclosed foreign interests, which was an affront to the rule of law.
Michel faces up to 20 years in jail for his convictions, which include conspiracy, concealment of material facts, making false entries in a record, witness tampering, and serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign power. The sentencing date has yet to be set.