WASHINGTON: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio was in federal court in Washington today to testify in the trial of rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel of The Fugees hip hop group, who is accused of illegally taking tens of millions of dollars to lobby the US government on behalf of a Malaysian financier and the Chinese government.
The “Titanic” star is one of several prominent figures linked to financier Jho Low, who is suspected of embezzling US$4.5 billion from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.
DiCaprio allegedly received a Picasso painting from Low, who was known to pay Hollywood celebrities to party with him. He has been cooperating with the US government’s investigation.
Michel is accused of profiting from an alleged embezzling scheme by Low, as well as a Chinese government influence campaign aimed at repatriating dissident Guo Wengui.
Michel faces 11 criminal counts for what prosecutors said were three separate lobbying schemes to influence the administrations of then-presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Michel has denied the allegations.
The Fugees won two Grammy Awards for their best-selling 1996 album “The Score.” But by 2012, prosecutors said, Michel was in dire need of cash.
Prosecutors said Michel agreed to funnel about US$2 million from Low into Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and hide the source of the funds. Federal election law prohibits foreigners from donating to US campaigns.
Prosecutors said Michel later waged an illegal influence campaign to persuade the Trump administration to back off its investigation into Low.
Michel and other co-conspirators are also accused of lobbying the Trump administration at China’s behest to return Guo to China.
Prosecutors said Michel was paid US$70 million for his work.
Michel’s lawyers are expected to argue that Michel did not know he was acting as a foreign agent and believed he was furthering American interests.