Pras Michel, member of US hip hop group Fugees alongside Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean, made the unusual decision to testify at his own federal conspiracy trial last Tuesday, April 18, Rolling Stone reports.
During the testimony, he told the court that he has met and shared information with the FBI voluntarily.
Michel is accused of accepting payments to further the interests of China and assist Malaysian billionaire Jho Low in gaining political connections in the US and attempt to influence the Obama and Trump administrations.
Prosecutors claim Michel received $100 million for conspiring with Low to illegally lobby the Donald Trump administration to deport Guo Wengui, a dubious self-proclaimed Beijing dissident who is wanted in his home nation on fraud charges.
In 2017, Mother Jones reported that the publication was approached with a pitch containing a four-page memo from Pras Michel "proposing an article on the US government’s refusal to grant China’s request for the extradition of a prominent dissident living in New York."
In his defence, Michel told the court that he voluntarily met with FBI agents in regards to China’s efforts to extradite Guo Wengui.
According to Dan Friedman, a reporter at Mother Jones who attended the court case, Michel decided to testify in his trial “after consulting with my attorneys and the universe”.
Michel is also accused by prosecutors of funnelling money from Low into Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and lobbying Trump’s administration to drop an ongoing investigation into Low and the activity of his 1MDB investment company.
Michel testified that a $20 million payment from Low was to help him get a photo with Barack Obama, with Michel claiming to act as a "celebrity surrogate" to assist Low in gaining access to political fundraisers his reputation for partying would otherwise block him from.
Michel is reported to have paid $1 million of this fee to a 2012 political group that supported Obama, and an additional $865,000 to a network of straw donors who used it to make campaign contributions.
According to Friedman, when asked if the money received from Low was a gift or income, he told the court: “I look at it as free money”.
Pras admitted, under his own lawyers’ questions, to conducting a straw donor scheme. And cross examination is rougher. Asked if $20 million he got from Low was a gift (as Pras claimed to avoid paying taxes) or income, which he now says, he answered: “I look at it as free money.”— Dan Friedman (@dfriedman33) April 18, 2023
Although Michel has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy or falsifying records, he faces 10 charges including witness tampering, failing to register as an agent in China, and conspiracy, reports CNN.
This includes “conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions using foreign funds”, and he could face 22 years in jail if convicted.
Speaking to Rolling Stone in an interview last month, Michel said: “What benefit would I get trying to break laws? It’s not worth it to me. I’m like a pariah now.
“I’ve got friends who won’t talk to me because they think there’s a satellite in orbit listening to them,” he explained. “I took it upon myself to report because I thought the FBI should know.”
Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Assistant Editor, follow her on Twitter
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EDIT 26/04: This article's headline has been amended to remove mention of Pras Michel being an "FBI informant", which may imply cutting a deal with the government, as opposed to someone who met and spoke to the FBI on a voluntary basis