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One of the most bizarre criminal trials in recent memory has concluded with the conviction of Fugees’ founder Prakazrel “Pras” Michel for multi-million dollar political conspiracies involving money laundering for Obama, interfering with a Justice Department investigation, and attempting to influence the extradition of a high-profile Chinese dissident on behalf of China under the Trump administration.
A Fugees rapper accused in multimillion-dollar political conspiracies spanning two presidencies was convicted Wednesday after a trial that included testimony ranging from actor Leonardo DiCaprio to former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Prakazrel “Pras” Michel was accused of funneling money from a now-fugitive Malaysian financer through straw donors to Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, then trying to squelch a Justice Department investigation and influence an extradition case on behalf of China under the Trump administration.
The defense argued the Grammy-winning rapper from the 1990s hip-hop group the Fugees simply wanted to make money and got bad legal advice as he reinvented himself in the world of politics.
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The saga of Pras Michel is entertaining, convoluted, and, in parts, disturbing. We encourage those interested to read the extensive report in Rolling Stone for the full, comprehensive account of the charges against Pras and how they emerged. In short, the Fugees founder’s troubles seem to have emerged from his business relationship with a flamboyant Malaysian national of Chinese descent called Low Taek Jho, whimsically referred to in much of the press as “Jho Low”. Low was involved in one of the largest financial frauds in history, and stands accused of siphoning off over 700 million dollars from 1MDB, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund which Low co-founded with the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak. As the public realized the extent of the fraud, Razak was ousted from power and convicted of multiple crimes. Low remains an international fugitive and is thought to be living in Macao in a luxurious residence owned by a senior Chinese official.
Before Low went into hiding, he was known for his lavish spending habits and his penchant for paying for the company of celebrities and other high-profile officials. He paid actor Leonardo DiCaprio to attend various parties and functions of his, and once gifted the Titanic star a 9.2 million dollar Basquiat artwork. Supermodel Miranda Kerr was also a beneficiary of Low’s largesse, reportedly receiving a cool 8.2 million dollars worth of gifts.
Jho Low’s desire for influence and clout extended beyond celebrities to politicians, and this is where things start to get complicated for Fugees star Pras Michel. Low would reportedly give Pras tremendous sums of money which Pras would then funnel into the Obama campaign through fundraiser and sometimes through other shell donors. Pras was just an entertainer and it is possible that he simply didn’t know what he was doing was illegal, though it would have been a very foolish thing for him not to run by these sorts of transactions with his lawyers.
The charges pertaining to foreign influence on behalf of China are more complicated and perhaps more questionable, at least if we go by the account of events presented in the Rolling Stone. One such charge relates to Pras’ alleged efforts to influence the Justice Department under the Trump administration to withdraw its legal case against Kho. According to the government, Pras helped Kho with his legal trouble by contacting a TV producer friend Nicki Lum Davis, who in turn reached out to Deputy RNC Finance Chair Elliott Broidy. This allegedly resulted in a contract to “secure Broidy’s services” to lobby the DOJ on Kho’s behalf. The contract involved 8 million upfront as a retainer, with a promise of a 75 million dollar success fee, to be disbursed to Broidy and presumably Davis and Pras.
The situation in which Pras found himself as an alleged illegal agent of foreign Chinese influence is still more bizarre. At one point Kho summoned Broidy, Pras, and some others to Shenzhen China. On the trip, they met with a senior Chinese official identified as Vice Minister of Public Security Sun Lijun. Lijun made it clear that he wanted Broidy to lobby Trump officials to extradite Chinese dissident Guo Wengui. Broidy promised Lijun he would arrange meetings for him in the White House, though as it turns out he never followed through.
Then weeks later something extremely bizarre happened. As though straight out of a spy novel, Pras was approached at a New York hotel and told to walk around the block a few times until he received further notice. Eventually he had his phone confiscated and was summoned up to a room in the hotel in which he met with a Chinese official, allegedly the same senior Chinese official, Sun Lijun whom Kho introduced to Broidy in Szenchen. The following description of Pras’ encounter with this official—who has since fallen out of favor with the Chinese government and been executed—is worth reading in full (from the aforementioned Rolling Stone piece):
IT WAS SPRING in New York City, and Pras was walking laps around the Four Seasons Hotel on East 57th Street. He didn’t know why he was doing this, and as he rounded the block onto Madison Avenue, then turned onto 58th Street, and then back to Park and back to Madison again, it occurred to Pras that whoever left the card at the front desk instructing him to walk this route before reentering the hotel might now be preparing to kill him. The entire experience — the anonymous messages, the circumambulations, the presumed surveillance — felt deeply menacing.After the second lap, Pras picked up another card from the front desk, this one sending him to a room on an upper floor, where he waited for half an hour, anxiety rising, until two Chinese men in suits came to the door. They took Pras’ phone and led him to the penthouse, where they showed him to a table. Then Sun Lijun arrived with a young interpreter. Lijun pulled a cigarette out of a pack of Newports. Pras, who hates cigarettes, stood up from the table, triggering a brief commotion. “I’m allergic to cigarette smoke,” he told the interpreter. Lijun was not pleased. “He gave me this look,” Pras tells me, “like, ‘This bitch-ass motherfucker.’”Lijun stamped out his Newport and began shouting and ranting in Mandarin. The translator stiffened up. “Well, what the minister is trying to say is …” Pras cut him off and told him to give it to him straight. “You’re not going to offend me. I’m not a politician. I’m not wearing a suit. I really don’t give a fuck. Just tell me why I’m here.”Lijun was furious; he’d been refused the meeting with the Trump administration that Broidy had promised him. The last-minute cancellation was just the latest display of American disrespect. Settling down, Lijun explained his purpose in New York that day: China wanted the U.S. government to turn over Guo Wengui, and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanted Lijun to send back three detained Americans, including a young pregnant American citizen. Lijun took out his phone, Pras says, and showed him an email from Sessions calling on Lijun to release her immediately.“Now I don’t know much, but I know enough to know that this is some big shit,” Pras recalls thinking at the time. He sat down and looked at the vice minister. “I’m looking at him, like, ‘Damn, this shit heavy.’” Lijun returned his solemn gaze. “If you were me,” Lijun asked, “what would you do?”
Pras took a breath. “It’s a little bit above my pay grade,” he said, “but if you want my personal opinion, send them back home.” Lijun asked him to explain. “Look, man, this woman is pregnant. From a humanistic perspective, wouldn’t it make more sense to send her back in good faith so she can be with her family when she goes into labor?” Pras said. “That’s just my opinion.”Lijun took out his phone and made a call. “When do you want her back?” he asked Pras. “I don’t know, tomorrow?” Pras replied.Lijun finished his call. The pregnant woman would be back in America within a few days, he said. Pras was stunned. “I’m just curious,” he said, “who were you on the phone with that allowed you to send this woman back?”“Xi,” said Lijun.
The answers to these questions have relevance that extend far beyond the interesting and unfortunate case of former Fugees singer Pras. Given the political weaponization of the Justice Department, it is very disturbing to imagine that political enemies could be prosecuted for ambiguous crimes related to any interaction with a foreign official. We’ve seen abuse of this principle in relation to a recent case in which the DOJ charged black leftists for posting memes and other political content against the war in Ukraine, allegedly on behalf of Russia
This is an absolutely remarkable – and chilling – indictment. Several American black leftist groups and activists are being charged with felonies for posting memes and other political content against the war in Ukraine, protesting racial injustice: allegedly on behalf of Russia: https://t.co/SQ1K1VZG1v
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 19, 2023
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Regardless of the political perspective of those prosecuted for such cases, the precedent here is dangerous and almost certain to invite further abuse against all Americans, but especially Americans who challenge the establishment. The regime never used to prosecute foreign registration cases, for instance, and only begun to politically weaponize such prosecutions to go after officials associated with Trump like General Flynn and Paul Manafort.
An America First posture certainly requires a robust and serious counter-offensive to foreign influence in its various manifestations. Given the Regime’s total war against Trump and his supporters, and its weaponization of prosecutorial discretion to go after its political enemies for ambiguous offenses (such as the Trump supporter Doug Mackey who received a felony conviction for memes) it is critical that we be vigilant against further expansions of weaponized prosecutions.
As for the Fugees’ Michel Pras—he showed no emotion as they read out loud “guilty” on each count. He now faces up to 20-years in a federal prison.
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