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Fujis star Pras Michel testifies in international fraud trial

WASHINGTON — Hip-hop star and Fuzzies member Pross Michel picked up a different kind of microphone when he took the witness stand in his own defense at a federal courthouse in Washington, DC. A multi-million dollar international fraud trial.

“Mike check 1,2. Mike check 1, 2,” he aptly said at the start of his testimony.

“After consulting with my attorney and the universe, I decided to testify,” Michelle said in court Tuesday before answering questions from her defense team and prosecutors about nearly $800,000 she said she paid friends so they could donate to a political campaign. . .

Prosecutors alleged that the Grammy-winning artist immersed himself in American politics at the behest of a wealthy Malaysian financier to gain access, influence and make money. He was charged in a 2019 federal indictment that Low Taek Zhou, also known as Low Low, paid him millions to help Launder money from state-owned investment funds in his home country.

Pros Michelle

Pras Michel, a former member of the Fujis, Center, leaves federal court on April 3, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Michel, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of using Lowe’s money to make illegal contributions to former President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign and following a back channel with Trump administration officials to get both of them to abandon a federal fraud investigation into Lowe’s business dealings. Agreed. , and sent a Chinese dissident in the United States back to China to face criminal charges. Prosecutors do not allege that Obama campaign officials were aware of the alleged illegal payments.

But taking the stand Tuesday, Michelle said she viewed Lowe’s payments to her as “free money” and accepted nearly $20 million over nine months to help people secure a photo-op with Obama before and after the 2012 presidential run. campaign

In early spring 2012, the rapper testified, Lowe approached him about taking a photo with a Malaysian financier of then-President Obama — currently a co-defendant in the case, and who is overseas. He was willing to pay a lot for it, Michel said.

Lowe initially paid Michel $1 million to consider the proposal and begin planning, Michel said Tuesday. But by the end of the campaign season, Michelle was running low and consistently needed more money to get the job done.

Lowe eventually got photos of her with Obama — taken at the White House after the 2012 presidential election — but that was between Lowe’s initial request and the camera flash that prosecutors say was the first illicit element of her alleged relationship with Lowe.

The indictment alleges that Michelle funneled money to grassroots donors to secretly fund Obama’s re-election campaign and work around campaign finance laws. Obama’s campaign was “deceived” and “deceived,” prosecutors said earlier this month, in early arguments, after Michelle Lowe helped disguise legitimate donations from the U.S.

Michelle said Tuesday that she tried unsuccessfully to get the Malaysian businessman to enter the country for various 2012 campaign fundraisers, including one in Miami where Michelle and Lowe’s father posed for pictures with Obama. Lowe, Michel said, was not allowed in the meeting at the campaign’s request because of his financial dealings.

A few months later, according to court records and testimony, wealthy Democratic donor Frank White hosted a fundraiser at his Washington, D.C., home and pressured Michelle to fill a table with friends, each worth about $40,000 in donations.

During her testimony Tuesday, Michel said she paid her friends to donate to Obama’s campaign and attend dinners, at one point telling the jury that she was paid about $20 million to secure photos for Lowe and about 10% of the money went towards paying his friends so they could participate in the fundraiser.

Michel testified under oath that no one told him that such payments for political donations were illegal or could violate campaign finance laws.

“I thought I could just give money to my friends,” he explained from the witness stand, adding that some did not spend the funds on political donations as expected.

During cross-examination, prosecutors learned from Michelle that she was aware of other campaign finance laws, such as Lowe, which bars a foreign national from donating to the Obama campaign, and another that limits how much Michelle herself can donate. Still, he claimed he didn’t know his money moves could be illegal.

The Fujis star said the funds he gave his friends for the grant were “my money,” not Low’s, adding that once Low paid him to secure the picture, he was free to do whatever was necessary to get the job done.

At various points during cross-examination, Michels and prosecutors argued over whether the disputed funds were clearly linked to Michels, as the defendant argued, or were still linked to Lowe’s international funds.

Michel testified that he was “betrayed” and misled by outside advisers, confidants and employees, who he claims did not properly advise him on how to handle financial and legal affairs in the United States.

In one such instance, several years after the 2012 election, Michel said he “heard through friends that they were getting visits from the FBI” about campaign contributions. After consulting with a lawyer, Michelle said she was advised to send a letter to the people who paid Obama’s campaign donations and claim the money was not a gift, but a debt that must be repaid. Prosecutors say the letters – which could lead to legal action – were threats to witnesses in the investigation. The idea was “stupid,” Michelle admitted Tuesday, regretting that she followed her counsel’s advice on the matter.

Michelle’s testimony Tuesday also touched on Trump administration officials’ alleged efforts to drop an investigation into Lowe and extradite a Chinese national living in the United States to China to face criminal charges.

Under questioning, Michel said “I took it upon myself” to go to the FBI about dissident Miles Guo to connect interested parties with the US government. Guo, a Steve Bannon associate, was indicted on his own fraud charges.

Prosecutors say Michel, Lowe and their associates, including Republican lobbyists Elliot Broidy, met with Chinese government leaders and came up with what would become a failed plan to pay Brody millions of dollars to use his political contacts to push Low’s agenda. Broidy’s plan included sending letters to officials and pressuring Trump administration officials to schedule meetings on then-President Trump’s calendar.

Broidy pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent and was pardoned by Trump shortly before leaving office in 2021.

Michel testified Tuesday that “I haven’t talked to anyone” about federal laws that require him to register as a foreign agent to work for China and that he would have done so if advised.

Nevertheless, government counsel testified that the defendant was present at a gathering between Boyd and the Malaysian prime minister the night before Prime Minister Trump met. Michele told the jury that she stopped “to say hello” and nothing more.

Michael’s defense team — led by celebrity attorney David Kenner — argued that the rapper believed he was acting in the best interests of the United States at the time and was not acting as a foreign agent of China. They have made numerous attempts to have the charges dismissed on various grounds of selective and improper prosecution, and as Michelle’s testimony on Tuesday proved, their client was unaware of the law he was accused of breaking.

One former Trump official at the center of the alleged pressure campaign was then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who took the stand as a defense witness on Tuesday.

Sessions, who said Tuesday he “doesn’t recall” ever meeting Michel, told the jury under oath about various high-level meetings about Guo’s possible extradition to China, some involving other federal agencies. Those efforts ultimately failed, and Sessions said he rebuffed attempts to get him to meet with Chinese security officials about the matter. Sessions said he viewed the various meetings as “appropriate.”

Prosecutors at the Justice Department — which Sessions once led as the nation’s top law enforcement officer — refused to question him for cross-examination.

According to the Justice Department, Low embezzled more than $500 million from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) to shell companies owned by him and others, and some of the money was used to produce hits by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. movie”The Wolf of Wall Street.

DiCaprio Testified at Michelle’s trial Earlier this month.

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