The case against former Fugees rapper Pras Michel, accused of playing a central role in a geopolitical conspiracy spanning two US presidencies, will be in the hands of the jury Monday morning.
In prosecutors’ closing arguments, which concluded late Thursday afternoon, they laid out their case of how Michel allegedly took more than $100 million from Malaysian billionaire Jho Low to gain political influence for Low in the Obama and Trump administrations. Defense attorneys argued Michel was simply helping people make connections and never willfully or deliberately broke the law.
Michel faces multiple counts, including conspiracy to serve as an unregistered agent of China and witness tampering. He has pleaded not guilty.
“Mr. Michel is at the center of the conspiracy, he’s the core, he’s the linchpin,” prosecutor Sean Mulryne told the jury. “He was an insider threat who willingly broke the law to line his pockets.”
According to the government, Low gave Michel millions of dollars over the span of several years, some of which Michel allegedly funneled to then-President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign through multiple straw donors.
During President Donald Trump’s time in the White House, prosecutors say Michel was again paid by Low to help persuade the administration to drop investigations into Low as well as extradite Chinese dissident Guo Wengui, neither of which happened.
Low, who was named as a co-defendant in the case against Michel, is believed to be in China.
“Mr. Michel was greedy. He wanted money and he got it,” Mulryne said during closings. “This case is about foreign influence, it’s about foreign money, and it’s about greed.”
Michel’s attorney, David Kenner, told the jury that Michel was simply trying to get a business off the ground and took money from a wealthy playboy, spending it how he saw fit. Trying to make money, Kenner argued, was not a crime.
According to Kenner, Low gave $20 million to Michel in 2012 in hopes that Michel, who Kenner stressed was a “proud American,” would arrange a photo with Low and Obama.
“Rich people spend crazy money on crazy things,” Kenner said, adding that Low was “spending money like it was water.”
Kenner’s primary argument during closing arguments was that Michel never willfully or deliberately broke any campaign finance laws or the Foreign Agents Registration Act by not registering as acting on behalf of a foreign agent.
“There is no evidence that Mr. Michel knew about the law” or willfully broke it, Kenner said.
Michel relied on experts, Kenner said, echoing Michel’s own testimony, and those experts led Michel astray or simply did not inform him of his obligations under FARA, he argued.
In one such instance when Michel sent a letter to several straw donors he allegedly used, claiming they needed to pay him back and threatening legal action, Kenner told the jury Michel was acting on “very terrible advice” from his attorneys at the time.
When asked Thursday outside the courtroom how he was feeling about the trial, Michel said it was difficult to know.
“It’s not murder, it’s not rape, so…” Pras told CNN, shrugging.