THE US Department of Justice is investigating political donations by rap star Pras Michel to the 2012 Obama re-election campaign, after evidence emerged that he received US$20 million in gifts from Malaysian financier Jho Low, who is linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fraud scandal.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), reported that people connected to the investigation wanted to know if an agreement existed between Michel, a former member of The Fugees group, and Jho Low to get President Barack Obama re-elected. Donating funds to a candidate on behalf of another person or company is a violation of federal campaign finance laws and may be punishable by fines and/or jail time. The investigation is ongoing.
Kit Pearson, lawyer for Michel, told the WSJ a “false narrative” about his client was being spread, telling reporters that to draw any conclusions of collusion from the information would be “fundamentally mistaken.” He declined to comment on Michel’s relationship with Jho Low or the money received.
Jho Low is implicated as the mastermind of the Malaysian 1MDB scandal that the DoJ believes saw US$4.5 billion siphoned off from the Malaysian state development fund. Low is currently the subject of several civil-asset forfeiture suits being pursued by the DoJ after evidence suggests Low, and others, used the money to purchase extravagant items, including a US$250 million super-yacht, a Pablo Picasso painting that he gifted to Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, luxury homes, and diamond jewellery. He also allegedly used funds to finance the production of films, such as The Wolf of Wall Street.
Documents seen by WSJ show that Low paid US$20 million in 2012 to two limited-liability companies controlled by Michel. The payments were cited as a “gift the Pras.”
The same year, Michel donated over US$1.3 million to the re-election campaign of then-President Barack Obama. Around that time Jho Low, who is a close associate of Malaysian Prime Minster Najib Razak, was trying to boost both Malaysia’s and Najib’s profile in the US in the hopes of securing investment times, the WSJ reports.
A company that Michel co-founded with partner Frank White Jr, DuSable Capital Management LLC, also has ties to the development fund. In 2015, 1MDB bought DuSable’s stakes in a solar-power project in Malaysia for US$69 million. It remains DuSable’s biggest deal to date, but the project was never completed.
A spokesman for DuSable co-founder White and DuSable previously denied wrongdoing and said the dealings with 1MDB were “intended to provide renewable energy in Malaysia, create jobs in the United States and earn support for Malaysia in the United States.”