Rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel reportedly told the court that fugitive financier Jho Low had paid him US$20 million (RM 88.4 million) in 2012 just so the latter can take a photo with former United States president Barack Obama.
Accused of using straw donors to funnel illegal donations from Low into Obama’s campaign, Bloomberg reported the member of the hip hop group Fugees telling the jury that he was being paid to be a “celebrity surrogate” to get the photo.
“I basically asked for US$1 million to begin to think about how I would get this photo … I was going to try,” Michel was quoted by Bloomberg.
He also described Low as a “wealthy man willing to do anything, spend any type of money” to get a photo with Obama, and this reputation had made Low become “too hot” to be invited to fundraisers — leading to Michel’s attempt.
He then reportedly said Low paid him US$20 million over nine months, resulting in Low being photographed with Obama at a White House Christmas party.
Michel denied that this constituted funneling illegal donations, saying the money was a gift rather than income and he could what he liked with it,
“Once Jho Low gave me the money, it was my money … It’s what the market is willing to bear. Give me my money, and I’ll try to figure it out,” he reportedly said.
“I would say it’s free money … I didn’t work for it. I was having fun trying to get a photo for President Obama.”
Michel is accused of illegally taking tens of millions of dollars to lobby the US government on behalf of Low and the Chinese government.
Michel is being tried on 11 criminal counts including various conspiracy charges for what prosecutors said were three separate lobbying schemes to influence the administrations of former Presidents Obama and Donald Trump. Michel has denied the allegations.
Low, a Penang-born businessman, has been on the run since the change of governments in 2018. He is accused of being the mastermind behind the billions of ringgits siphoned from former sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
Low is also said to have been a close confidant of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who currently serving prison time for corruption charges related to 1MDB funds.