US rapper denies wrongdoing in alleged effort to stop 1MDB corruption probe

Mr Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, who rose to fame in the 1990s as a member of the hip-hop group Fugees, broadly denied "any allegations levelled against" him in the case.
Mr Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, who rose to fame in the 1990s as a member of the hip-hop group Fugees, broadly denied "any allegations levelled against" him in the case.PHOTO: INSTAGRAM / PRASMICHEL

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - A prominent rapper is disputing that he did anything wrong amid Justice Department allegations that he aided efforts to end a US investigation of Malaysian government corruption at state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), saying his name is being "dragged through the mud".

Mr Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, who rose to fame in the 1990s as a member of the hip-hop group Fugees, broadly denied "any allegations levelled against" him in the case and noted he was not facing any criminal charges.

He issued the statement late on Tuesday (Dec 4).

The Justice Department last week alleged in a civil forfeiture complaint that Mr Michel helped move money to fund a lobbying campaign, which unsuccessfully tried to shut down the ongoing probe into embezzlement and bribery surrounding 1MDB.

"I have never conspired to commit any crime, nor defraud any organisation, in this case or otherwise," Mr Michel said in a statement. "It is a shame that anyone's name should be dragged through the mud like this, particularly another Black man who uses his voice and influence to effect change."

The accusations against Mr Michel became public last week, when the Justice Department announced that one of its former employees - George Higginbotham, who worked as a senior congressional affairs specialist - pleaded guilty to illicitly facilitating the transfer of tens of millions of dollars into the United States to finance the lobbying effort.

In a related forfeiture complaint seeking nearly US$74 million (S$101 million), prosecutors alleged that Mr Michel worked with Higginbotham to open accounts at US financial institutions to finance the campaign, and that Mr Michel disbursed money to those involved in a lobbying effort.

Ms Nicole Navas, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said: "The complaint speaks for itself."

The 1MDB probe has drawn many headlines over the years as investigators traced the money they believe was pilfered by government officials and their associates.

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 the authorities in Malaysia charged their country's former prime minister with money laundering.

More recently, as US investigators turned their attention to efforts to short circuit their work, the cast of characters has grown more interesting.

In addition to Mr Michel and Higginbotham, prosecutors indicated that Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy was involved in the lobbying effort.

Officials did not name Mr Broidy in the filing but described conduct by an unidentified "Individual No. 1" that matches information contained in previously published reports about Mr Broidy - including that Mr Michel had hired his wife's law firm for advice on the Malaysia matter, and that Mr Broidy had complained about his e-mails having been hacked and released to the media.

Mr Broidy, a Los Angeles-based investor, helped corral big donors to support President Donald Trump's campaign, and after the election, he was appointed to serve as a deputy chairman for the Republican National Committee.

In April, he resigned from his RNC position in the wake of a report that he had paid a former Playboy model US$1.6 million in exchange for her silence about a sexual affair.

Mr Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen - another RNC fundraiser - helped arrange the settlement, Mr Broidy acknowledged at the time.

 

The lobbying effort, prosecutors said, was engineered by a Malaysian businessman named Low Taek Jho, who was indicted in the 1MDB case last month.

Prosecutors alleged in the forfeiture complaint that Mr Broidy refused to be paid directly by Low, but ultimately agreed to take about US$8 million from Mr Michel, whom they said acted as an "intermediary".

Mr Barry Pollack, Mr Michel's attorney, said on Tuesday night that there were "allegations or insinuations that Mr Michel did something improper or illegal, and that is absolutely not the case".

He said Mr Michel had been contacted by law enforcement, but "has consistently said that he has done absolutely nothing wrong, much less anything illegal".

"He is not in a position to give information about wrongdoing by anyone, because he doesn't have any insight into anybody doing anything improper," Mr Pollack said.

Mr Chris Clark, Mr Broidy's attorney, has noted Mr Broidy was not named in the forfeiture complaint.

He has previously asserted that Mr Broidy "never agreed to work for, been retained by nor been compensated by any foreign government for any interaction with the United States government", and claimed he never met with "President Trump, any member of his staff, or anyone at the US Department of Justice" to discuss Low's case.

Mr Clark said he was not immediately available to talk on Wednesday and requested a copy of Mr Michel's statement.

Mr Broidy, who is not charged with any crime, is described in court papers as offering the lobbying campaign strategic advice and the use of his name.