Obama Fundraising Scheme Involves Unexpected Suspect
Better late than never, I suppose, when it comes to trying to clean up alleged fraudulent activity in a presidential campaign. In this case, it goes all the way back to the 2012 presidential election. The case involves a hip hop rapper and a fugitive Malaysian businessman. Hmmm. I wonder which candidate the story is about. Just kidding. The indictment was unsealed Friday and it doesn’t specifically name Obama but the reference is clear, at least to the New York Times.
While the indictment unsealed on Friday does not specifically name the candidate in question — who is accused of no wrongdoing — it clearly refers to former President Barack Obama. The indictment includes allusions to Candidate A having a presidential administration and hosting an event at the White House that Mr. Low either “attended or arranged for his associates to attend.”
A founding member of the Fugees, Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, was charged in a four-count indictment Friday of conspiring with Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho to make and conceal foreign campaign contributions. It’s quite a hefty sum of money, too. The indictment alleges Low Taek Jho, a wealthy Malaysian businessman, transferred more than $21 million from foreign entities to Michel’s accounts “for the purpose of funneling significant sums of money into the United States presidential election as purportedly legitimate contributions,” as he hid the source of the funds. The timeframe is from June to November 2012.
The indictment accuses 46-year-old Michel of paying $865,000 of the money received from Low “to about 20 straw donors, or conduits, so that the straw donors could make donations in their names to a presidential joint fundraising committee.”
Prosecutors also allege Michel personally directed more than $1 million of the money received from Low to an independent expenditure committee involved in the 2012 election.
Prosecutors allege Low also sent more than $1 million to an independent expenditure committee. A case is pending in the Eastern District of New York that alleges he conspired to launder billions of dollars and violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He remains at large.
Low has gained attention in the last several years after U.S. officials accused him of masterminding a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions from the Malaysian state investment fund known as 1MDB. He’s been charged separately by both U.S. and Malaysian officials in connection with that alleged fraud but remains at large
Lawyers for both men state their innocence.
“Mr. Michel is extremely disappointed that so many years after the fact the government would bring charges related to 2012 campaign contributions,” said defense lawyer Barry Pollack. “Mr. Michel is innocent of these charges and looks forward to having the case heard by a jury.”
Representatives for Low said in a statement that he is innocent and the allegations against him “have no basis in fact.”
“Mr. Low has never made any campaign contributions directly or indirectly in the U.S. and he unequivocally denies any involvement in or knowledge of the alleged activities,” the statement said.
A nonprofit campaign finance watchdog group, Democracy 21, and another group filed a complaint to both the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission. The rapper also faces a separate civil forfeiture complaint. He’s accused of a participating in a scheme with Low to try to get embezzlement charges from a Malaysian investment fund dropped. That complaint became a political scandal in Malaysia. Michel claims innocence in this complaint, too.
The embezzlement from the fund, known as 1MDB, became a political scandal in Malaysia. Looted money paid for jewelry and luxury art and helped finance “The Wolf of Wall Street” and other Hollywood productions films. The Justice Department last year announced charges against Jho Low and two former Goldman Sachs bankers in a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered money from the fund, created to spur economic development projects in that country.
One of those bankers, Roger Ng, was extradited from Malaysia earlier this month to face charges in New York.
The latest indictment announced Friday finds Mr. Low, as the New York Times reports, in further legal trouble. That civil forfeiture complaint announced back in January, it should be noted, contributed to the political demise of Malaysia’s former prime minister.
The indictment adds to a list of legal troubles for Mr. Low, also known as Jho Low. He has been wanted by law enforcement in the United States and Malaysia for his alleged role in the theft of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. That case contributed to the electoral defeat and eventual indictment of the country’s former prime minister, Najib Razak.
Michel was not detained Friday when he entered his not guilty plea in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Mr. Obama’s spokesman did not respond to a message from the New York Times asking for comment.
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