Fugees co-founding member Pras Michel has been convicted for his involvement in a brazen billion-dollar Malaysian money laundering scheme. On Wednesday, a jury found Pras guilty of 10 federal counts, including campaign finance violations, money laundering, illegal lobbying, witness tampering, and lying to banks. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
The case involved Low Taek Jho, aka “Jho Low,” a fugitive businessman who has been accused of embezzling $4.5 billion from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund known as 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Michel allegedly worked on Jho’s behalf, intentionally failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and attempting to influence two different presidential administrations — by pouring millions of dollars into Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign through straw donors, and by lobbying Donald Trump’s administration to halt a DOJ investigation into 1MDB. Michel was allegedly paid tens of millions of dollars for his services.
Michel purportedly rejected a deal that would have let him plead guilty to obstruction of justice and a lesser violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Under terms of the deal, he would have spent up to 16 months in prisons, and the government would have returned a portion of the approximately $40 million it seized from Michel’s accounts. Michel rebuffed the plea deal and demanded that all of his seized money be returned.
As a result of Michel’s legal troubles, Fugees were forced to cancel a planned reunion tour in 2021.
Michel’s high-profile trial included testimony from actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who discussed how Low used some of his embezzled fortune to finance Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street, part of a broader effort to win influence in Hollywood. Low also gave money to DiCaprio’s environmental foundation. The actor said he ceased communications with Low in 2015, after discovering the illegal sources of his money.