When the Fugees canceled their The Score 25th-Anniversary reunion tour after just one brief show last fall, the group cited COVID safety concerns as the reason for scrapping the international trek. It now appears that what may have actually derailed Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras Michel‘s tour was the latter’s impending federal charges on campaign finance violations, conspiracy, and falsifying documents. A new report from Puck.News states that Pras Michael is facing federal prosecution for his undeclared work as a foreign agent in connection with the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) money laundering scandal.
According to the U.S. government, Michel allegedly worked with Jho Low, the fugitive businessman accused of funneling $4.5 billion from 1MDB into his personal bank accounts. The government has alleged that Michel intentionally failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and attempted to influence two presidential administrations via donations made to Barack Obama‘s 2012 re-election campaign through straw donors and lobbying efforts to get Donald Trump to send dissident Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui back to China.
For his part, Michel was allegedly paid at least $8 million, with another $75 million promised if he could stop the Department Of Justice’s investigation into 1MDB. The entanglement first became public back in 2019 when Michel pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and falsifying records. DOJ had already instructed Michel that he could not leave the country months before the Fugees announced their global reunion tour. According to Puck, “Fugees tour was eventually postponed after quiet negotiations over his bail conditions broke down.”
Michel allegedly turned down a plea deal that would have included up to 16 months in prison but would have seen the government return a few of the $40 million it seized from his bank accounts. He is preparing to fight the case in court this November, represented by David Kenner, 80, who successfully defended Snoop Dogg in his 1996 murder trial.
“This case is following the trajectory of so many before it, where a case with multiple defendants features a lone black artist,” Kenner’s team wrote in a dismissal motion filed earlier this month. “In this case, it works like this: the artist, who speaks for the poor and marginalized and who gives back to such communities in enormous ways, is the last man standing….”
The Justice Department says Michel signed a contract, and in the process, he “volunteered as a willing shill for a foreign principal and foreign government and determined with his co-conspirators not to register in order to make the back-channel lobbying more effective and increase the chance of earning the outsize contingent success fee.”
Where the case takes a turn, however, is with George Higginbotham, a former entertainment lawyer who at one point represented Michel before going to work for the DOJ. Though the Justice Department prohibited him from doing so, Higginbotham did some outside consulting work for Michel during the period he was allegedly involved in the 1MDB scandal. Michel’s defense even goes so far as to allege that it was Higginbotham who advised Michel not to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and that the artist was merely following the advice of counsel who was himself a member of the DOJ.
“Simply, Mr. Higginbotham never advised Mr. Michel to register [as a foreign agent],” Michel’s court papers state. “[O]ne would assume [Higginbotham] considered as well as to himself, and made a determination that it wasn’t necessary.” The prosecution, in turn, countered this argument by writing, “The advice-of-counsel defense, like the issue of intent generally, presents questions of facts reserved for the jury to evaluate and decide.”
Pras Michel is expected to appear in a Washington, D.C. court on November 4th. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.