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NY Post
New York Post
25 Mar 2023

NextImg:Inside the wild federal trial of the Fugees’ Pras that begins Monday

Haitian-American rapper Pras Michel was raised outside Newark, NJ, rose to fame with the Fugees and had success as a solo artist with “Ghetto Supastar.”

But somehow, he also wound up an international man of mystery.

On Monday, the Grammy-winning Pras, 50, goes on trial in a Washington, DC, federal court as a key figure in a complex, multi-billion dollar global finance and political influence conspiracy involving two foreign nationals: Jho Low, a flashy Malaysian billionaire with ties to China, and Guo Wengui, the exiled Chinese billionaire who recently had a fire in his Manhattan apartment during an FBI raid.

Pras’ defense subpoenaed Presidents Obama and Trump, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and others in the case, but US Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly quashed the subpoenas last week.

The rapper could face up to 22 years in prison if convicted on charges that include one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States government, among others.

Pras submitted a star-studded witness list that included ex-HUD director Ben Carson, Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn and former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Pras could face up to 22 years in prison if convicted on charges that include one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States government, among others.
Alberto E. Rodriguez

Federal prosecutors allege Pras received approximately $100 million from Low to influence American politics.

Low, dubbed the “Asian Great Gatsby,” is on trial with Pras but has gone on the lam after allegedly siphoning $4.4 billion from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund (1MDB) and going on a wild spending spree — both to impress celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Miranda Kerr and Kim Kardashian and to launder the funds.

Low is believed to be living with his family in China.

Pras and Low first met at the PM nightclub in the meatpacking district in 2006, according to Rolling Stone.

They stayed in touch and in 2012, at around the time Pras was invited by Frank White Jr., an Obama fund-raiser, to a $40,000-per-person dinner with Obama, Low decided he wanted in.

Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, Pras Michel from the Fugees
Pras Michel (right) founded the Grammy-Award winning rap group along with high school friends Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill in 1992.

According to the indictment, Low wired Pras $1 million to cover Pras and his friends at the event.

All in all, Low allegedly sent $21 million of the funds he scammed from Malaysia to Pras and his financial adviser. Pras, in turn, allegedly donated $1.1 million of the money, using his own name, to the Obama campaign and distributed another $865,000 to about 20 straw donors. 

Pras, who’s accused of being an unregistered foreign agent, is charged with helping Low, who financed DiCaprio’s hit movie “Wolf of Wall Street,” attempt to curry favor with the Obama and Trump administrations.

Both Pras and Low are charged with illegally funneling millions of dollars in contributions to Obama’s 2012 campaign.

Leonardo di Caprio is pictured with disgraced Malaysian financier Jho Low
Leonardo DiCaprio with disgraced Malaysian financier Jho Low — Pras’ co-defendant who helped finance DiCaprio’s film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Getty Images

The two are also accused of illegally lobbying the Trump administration to drop an investigation of Low’s activities with 1MDB, and Pras is charged with illegally lobbying Trump to extradite Guo, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party.

Among the many strange claims in the case is one alleging that the rapper reached out to Mother Jones in November 2017 to suggest the magazine do an article on how the US government refused to grant China’s request to extradite Guo.

“The question is why is the FBI protecting Guo Wengui — a Chinese illegal immigrant who lied on his US visa application for entry to the USA, is wanted for rape, kidnapping and a number of civil lawsuits in the millions of dollars, and has an Interpol red notice warrant out for his arrest?” Pras wrote in the memo, which he sent from a personal email account via an intermediary, Mother Jones reported.

The plot of the sprawling, complex saga thickened even more on March 15, just 10 days before Michel’s trial was scheduled to start when Guo was arrested by the FBI at his $65 million Manhattan apartment at the palatial Sherry-Netherland Hotel overlooking Central Park.

Guo Wengui
Guo Wengui, recently arrested by the FBI on charges of leading a conspiracy to defraud online followers out of more than $1 billion, is also tied to Pras case.
Helayne Seidman
The Sherry-Netherland apartment building where Guo Wengui owns an apartment.
Guo Wengui was arrested at his apartment at the Sherry-Netherland in Manhattan — and a fire broke out in the home during the FBI raid.

Federal officials said that Ho Wan Kwok, aka Guo Wengui and Miles Guo, allegedly duped thousands of online followers out of investments and spent the ill-gotten cash on lavish assets, including a $36,000 mattress, a $26.5 million New Jersey mansion and a $37 million yacht. 

Then it got even weirder.

A fire broke out in the 18th-floor apartment while FBI agents were still searching it — and authorities say the entire home was wired to record audio of visitors and that they believe the fire in the wood-paneled library was started remotely.

Pras’s attorney asked for a delay in the trial last week because of Guo’s arrest, but were turned down by Judge Kollar-Kotelly. The defense team tried to argue that prosecutors must give them a “treasure trove” of documents about the arrest.

The feds seized $74 million from Pras’s accounts.

In 2019, when the feds first hit Pras with an indictment on four criminal counts for illegal contributions to the 2012 Obama reelection campaign, they offered him a plea deal.

In return for pleading guilty, they’d return a small amount of the $74 million they seized from his bank accounts in 2018, but Pras declined the deal.

Adam Waldman — the controversial Washington, DC attorney who once represented Johnny Depp in his divorce from Amber Heard, has tweeted about what he says has been a dearth of press coverage of the rapper’s case.

“In 11 days, a hip hop star is on trial alongside a fugitive Chinese Spy. 2 US Presidents, 2 US national security advisors, White House Chief of Staff, 2 Presidential Campaign Chief Fundraisers and Leonardo DiCaprio are called witnesses,” Waldman tweeted last week. “Yet the dystopian media won’t cover it.”

Two major media outlets, Bloomberg and Rolling Stone, did cover it fairly recently, in two splashy, largely sympathetic profiles of Pras done with his cooperation.

Pras Michel
Pras Michel has said he grew up in a strict Haitian-American household in Irvington, NJ.

The profiles both presented Pras, in part, as an altruistic figure who got in way over his head in what became an 11-year international scandal.

“I used to think getting into politics was a way to try to help people,” Pras told Rolling Stone. “When you think about it, what the f–k do I really need to be in politics for?

“There’s no reason — my life is great — if it’s not to try to help people.”

Pras’ defense team is also expected to present him as more of an unwitting and naive fall guy in the saga — while prosecutors see him more of a major player, sources told The Post.

Steve Wynn
Hotel and casino mogul Steve Wynn, pictured in 2015, is among the many bold-faced names swept up in the Jho Low and Pras Michel scandal.
AFP via Getty Images

They likely plan to hit him with the triple whammy of fattening Obama’s campaign coffers with dirty money, leaning on Trump to make the scandal with Low and 1MDB go away — and being a mouthpiece for Chinese power in Washington.

As Rolling Stone put it: “He faces a towering criminal indictment that, putting the specific charges aside for a moment, is part of a decade-long investigation that implicates two of the past three presidential administrations, Leonardo DiCaprio, Goldman Sachs, casino tycoon Steve Wynn, (Obama fund-raiser) Frank White Jr., plus like a bad Rat Pack reboot — Oceans 14: Mar-a-Lago! — a screwy crew of scheming political donors and wannabe operatives who got in over their heads, broke some laws (wittingly or not), and have since rolled under government pressure and agreed to testify against Pras apparently to save their own hides.”

Born Prakazrel Samuel Michel, the rapper grew up in what he once said was a strict family in Irvington, NJ

Miranda Kerr
Model Miranda Kerr received $8 million in jewels from Jho Low, Pras’ co-defendant.
Getty Images for Forbes Australia

He and the two other Fugees, Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill, attended Columbia High School in Maplewood. In 1996, he won two Grammys with the group, for best R&B performance (“Killing Me Softly”) and best rap album (“The Score.”)

“The Score” went double platinum.

In 1998 he was nominated for a Grammy, with Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mya, for best rap performance by a duo or group for “Ghetto Supastar,” from his debut solo album.

Pras was long interested in social justice issues. In 2006, he released a documentary, “Skid Row, Los Angeles,” which featured him going undercover as a homeless man with a hidden camera.

In 2013, he became a “top initial donor” to Organizing for Action, a political advocacy group formed by Obama associates.

Jho Low
Low is considered a fugitive by the US government and believed to be living in China with his family.
Michael Loccisano

The rapper declined to speak to The New York Post, who he unsuccessfully sued in 2016 for defamation, for this story.

He had claimed in the $30 million suit that he was described as having failed to perform as expected as the headliner at a 9/11 charity event for a foundation with which he was purportedly affiliated. 

He claimed he was not affiliated with the foundation and had not been scheduled to perform at the event, but the suit was dismissed.

Pras’s attorney in the criminal case, David Kenner, told The Post only that he was “looking forward to trying the case and having the opportunity to put forth to a jury our theory of the defense.