US charges Jho Low and ex-Fugee with 1MDB back-channel lobbying

The US has charged a Malaysian financier and a former member of the hip hop trio Fugees with back-channel lobbying to drop a probe linked to the 1MDB Malaysian state investment fund embezzlement scandal and to extradite a Chinese dissident based in the US. 

Jho Low, the alleged mastermind behind the fraud at 1MDB, and Prakazrel “Pras” Michel are accused of launching undisclosed lobbying campaigns in 2017 targeting the Donald Trump administration, according to a DoJ statement released on Friday.

Directed by Low and China’s vice minister of public security, Michel’s and the Malaysian financier’s alleged lobbying efforts sought to convince the US administration to quash the investigation of Low and others in relation to 1MDB and have a dissident sent back to China, the DoJ said. 

Michel and Low were accused of conspiring with individuals including Elliott Broidy, a former Trump fundraiser, and Nickie Lum Davis, an American businesswoman, who both pled guilty in 2020 to lobbying senior US government officials to throw out the 1MDB probe and deport the Chinese dissident. The DoJ said these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. 

The financier and the artist were also charged with conspiring to commit money laundering. The hip hop star was also charged with witness tampering and conspiracy to make false statements to banks, according to the DoJ statement.

The new allegations highlight the intricate web linked to the 1MDB fraud, which involved illicit money flows across the world and extended to the top echelons of global politics.

The DoJ alleges a total of $4.5bn was misappropriated from the fund in a scandal US officials have labelled “kleptocracy at its worst”.

Malaysia, which is conducting its own investigation into the affair, is seeking to recoup billions of dollars funnelled out of 1MDB to buy luxury property, expensive art and to finance the Oscar-nominated film The Wolf of Wall Street

Lawyers for Low and Michel did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday. Low, who also faces charges in Malaysia, has denied wrongdoing and remains at large.

Michel gained fame with the Fugees, a hip hop group including Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean that rose to stardom in the 1990s with hit singles such as Killing Me Softly and Ready or Not.

Low and Michel were charged in 2019 for allegedly making illicit contributions to the 2012 US presidential election campaign. The DoJ alleged Michel received about $21.6m from Low and redirected the money personally and through about 20 “straw donors”.

If convicted, the Malaysian financier faces imprisonment of up to 10 years per count while Michel could serve a maximum of 20 years in prison per count.

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