Pras Michel: Former Fugees rapper testifies in his own trial
Former Fugees rapper Pras Michel testified in his own trial Tuesday, telling the jury that money he received from a Malaysian businessman to set up a picture with then-President Barack Obama was “free money.”
The government has alleged that Michel unlawfully used funds over several years from Malaysian billionaire Jho Low to expand Low’s influence in the US, including to try and dissuade the Justice Department from investigating Low.
“I looked at it as free money,” Michel said of the millions given to him by Low, adding that he depended on the advice of his lawyers and financial managers at the time and never intended to violate any laws.
Michel has been charged with conspiracy, witness tampering and failing to register as acting on the behalf of a foreign agent. He has pleaded not guilty.
According to Michel, Low had asked him in 2012 to set up a picture of Low and Obama. Michel told Low to give him $1 million and he would think about how to make that happen. Michel, after receiving the money, used some of it to pay several friends to attend a campaign dinner for Obama, where spots cost $40,000 each, he testified.
“I thought that I could just give my friends” money to contribute to the campaign, Michel told the jury. “I gave my money to these people to make the donations,” Michel said, but noted, “I had some friends who didn’t donate and kept the money.”
Michel kept referring to the money that Low gave him as “my money” and contended that he could have spent it however he wanted and not at Low’s direction. “I could have bought 12 elephants with it,” he said.
Between $700,000 to $800,000 of the money went to friends of Michel who then donated to the Obama Victory Fund committee, he testified.
A prosecutor told Michel during cross examination that funneling donations through other individuals is illegal. “At that time, I didn’t know that,” Michel responded.
Prosecutors showed the jury letters Michel sent to these individuals in 2019, telling them the $40,000 was a loan which they needed to pay back and that they were in violation of a contractual obligation. “I just did something stupid,” Michel said in response, adding that he never took legal action against any of those individuals.
Prosecutor John Keller also asked Michel about funds to help Low find an attorney, which Michel contested was not illegal. “Everybody’s looking for someone with connections,” Michel said. “That’s what everybody does.”