Fugees rapper Pras, Jho Low charged in scheme to get Trump administration to drop 1MDB probe

Key Points
  • A federal grand jury hit the fugitive Malaysian financier Jho Low and Fugees rapper Prakazrel "Pras" Michel with new criminal charges.
  • Low and Michel are accused of running a back-channel campaign to get the Trump administration to drop an investigation of Low and the 1MDB investment company.
  • The campaign also tried to have Chinese dissident billionaire Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Kwok, returned to China.
  • President Donald Trump pardoned Elliot Broidy, a former GOP fundraiser, in connection with the illegal campaign.
In this April 23, 2015 file photo, Jho Low, Director of the Jynwel Foundation, poses at the launch of the Global Daily website in Washington, D.C.
Stuart Ramson | Invision for the United Nations Foundation

A federal grand jury has hit the fugitive Malaysia financier Jho Low and Fugees rapper Prakazrel "Pras" Michel with new criminal charges, accusing them of running a back-channel campaign to get the Trump administration to drop an investigation of Low and the 1MDB investment company and to have a Chinese dissident returned to China.

The new charges against Low, 39, and the 48-year-old Michel come six months after former President Donald Trump pardoned former top Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy in connection with his guilty plea in October for his role in the illegal lobbying effort on Low's behalf.

CNBC has reached out to Broidy's lawyer to ask whether Broidy testified before the grand jury that indicted Low and Michel.

Because of his pardon, Broidy would be unable to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if called to testify at a grand jury investigating his activities related to Low and Michel.

Broidy, who is a Los Angeles-based businessman, was paid $9 million for his efforts on their behalf, with "the expectation of tens of millions more in success fees," federal authorities have said.

Low and Michel were charged two years ago in federal court in Washington, D.C., with allegedly illegally funneling millions of dollars of Low's money to support the 2012 presidential campaign of then-President Barack Obama.

Pras Michel of the Hip hop group the Fugees performs on August 1, 1996 in New York City, New York.
Al Pereira | Michael Ochs Archives | Getty Images

The Justice Department for years has investigated and filed criminal cases and civil forfeiture actions related to the embezzlement of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, a strategic investment and development company that is wholly owned by the government of Malaysia.

Low, who is believed to be in China, is allegedly at the center of that scheme to loot 1MBD. He was charged in 2018 in Brooklyn federal court with conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from the company and with paying bribes to officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi.

Low and his associates allegedly used some swindled cash to buy real estate, yachts and jets, as well as to finance Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," a film about a financial fraudster.

The indictment issued Thursday by a grand jury in Washington accuses Low and Michel of conspiring with Broidy, a woman named Nickie Lum Davis and others "to engage in undisclosed lobbying campaigns at the direction of Low and the Vice Minister of Public Security for the People's Republic of China, respectively," according to the Justice Department.

The goals of those campaigns were "both to have the 1MDB embezzlement investigation and forfeiture proceedings involving Low and others dropped and to have a Chinese dissident sent back to China."

That dissident is understood to be billionaire Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Kwok and Miles Guo.

The new indictment also accuses Michel and Low of conspiring to commit money laundering related to the foreign influence campaigns, the Justice Department said. Michel is additionally charged with witness tampering and conspiracy to make false statements to banks.

Davis pleaded guilty in August to violating the foreign lobbying act as part of the Justice Department's probe involving 1MDB. 

Also in August, Trump's former senior advisor Steve Bannon was arrested on Guo's yacht, off the coast of Connecticut, on federal criminal charges accusing him and others of defrauding thousands of donors through a crowdfunding campaign to privately build sections of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump pardoned Bannon on his last night in office in January, the same time he pardoned Broidy.

The investment bank Goldman Sachs last year entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department related to the conspiracy in which the bank and its Malaysian unit violated U.S. bribery laws by paying Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials to get business from 1MDB.

Goldman, which received around $600 million in fees for bond deals that funded the bank, agreed to pay more than $2.9 billion as part of that deferred prosecution agreement.