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Malaysian Fugitive and Ex-Fugees Rapper Indicted for Funneling Foreign Money to Back Obama

Pras -at the Miami Film Festival's presentation of "Sweet Micky for President" in 2015. (Ph
Pras -at the Miami Film Festival's presentation of "Sweet Micky for President" in 2015. (Photo: MiamiFilmFestival)

Charges in the indictment range from campaign finance violations and false statements to the FEC to falsifying tax records.

(By Ann Massoglia and Karl Evers-Hillstrom, Center for Responsive Politics) A fugitive Malaysian financier accused of stealing billions and a New York rapper were indicted Friday for allegedly funneling foreign money to President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and a pro-Obama super PAC through straw donors.

Jho Low, a financier at the center of the 1MDB scandal, allegedly transferred roughly $21 million to Pras Michel — a musician, producer and original member of the Fugees — who prosecutors say funneled more than $1 million to a pro-Obama super PAC. Prosecutors also allege that Low and Michel also gave roughly $865,000 to Obama’s joint fundraising committee through 20 straw donors.

The super PAC in question is Black Men Vote, a mysterious group that shelled out $842,760 in independent expenditures to support Obama in 2012. The group aired radio ads attacking Obama’s Republican opponent Mitt Romney, including one ad that was labeled “misleading” for taking Romney’s comments out of context.

More than 90 percent of Black Men Vote’s $1.33 million war chest came from money funneled through a limited-liability company called SPM Holdings LLC and Michel’s personal contributions, with him allegedly acting as a “straw donor,” according to the indictment. The only other donor to the group was Virginia philanthropist Earl Stafford, who is credited with a $100,000 contribution.

Beneficiaries of the foreign money also included the Obama Victory Fund, Obama’s joint-fundraising committee with the Democratic Party.

Republican FEC commissioners in 2016 blocked an effort by their Democratic counterparts to open an investigation into Michel for violating the ban on straw contributions. In their reasoning, the Republican commissioners wrote, “our colleagues’ approach would render the constitutional rights of closely held corporations to engage in independent political speech functionally meaningless.”

Michel tried and failed to get Low into multiple fundraising events for Obama. His efforts were not entirely fruitless, however, as Michel was able to secure a spot for Low’s father at a private fundraiser despite the invitation including a disclaimer on the “prohibition on foreign and conduit contributions.”

“To gain further access to and influence” according to the indictment, Low and his associates did ultimately attend events at the White House with Obama  — visits brought into question after it was revealed Low funneled millions of dollars to the businessman who arranged them.

Michel recruited several straw donors to give to Obama’s committee. At one point a potential straw donor “expressed her concerns about the legality of the arrangement,” and told him she would not donate the money, to which Michel responded “Okay.”

Charges in the indictment range from campaign finance violations and false statements to the FEC to falsifying tax records.

Low’s money again came into play during the 2016 election. But this time, Donald Trump was the beneficiary.

Federal prosecutors are currently investigating whether more than $1.5 million in suspicious money transfers traced back to Low were funneled to the Trump campaign’s joint fundraising committee.

Low is no stranger to legal trouble. He allegedly used Malaysia’s 1MDB fund as a personal slush fund, blowing through millions of dollars partying with celebrities and financing blockbuster movies. His whereabouts are currently unknown, but he has built up an army of foreign agents meant to bolster his image in the U.S.

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