Feds have accused Prakazrel (“Pras”) Michel of funneling money for a Malaysian fugitive. (Joshua Blanchard | Getty Images)

ABOVE + BELOW – Prakazrel (“Pras”) Michel

 

https://www.nj.com/news/2018/12/founder-of-famed-fugees-tied-to-malaysian-billionaires-money-laundering-scheme.html

 

One of the founders of the seminal New Jersey rap group, the Fugees, and a former Justice Department employee were accused Friday by feds of opening multiple bank accounts to funnel tens of millions of dollars in funds from overseas accounts controlled by a Malaysian business tycoon.

Prakazrel (“Pras”) Michel and former Justice Department official George Higginbotham allegedly planned to use the funds to attemptto influence the Justice Department’s investigation of Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman who was charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with money laundering, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Low, who is still at large, was accused earlier this year of having a role in the alleged embezzlement of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian fund known as 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

“According to the allegations in the complaint, Michel and Higginbotham defrauded U.S. financial institutions and laundered millions of dollars into the United States as part of an effort to improperly influence the Department’s investigation into the massive embezzlement and bribery scheme involving 1MDB,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski in the release. “The Criminal Division and our law enforcement partners will do everything we can to trace, seize, and forfeit the proceeds of foreign corruption that flow through the U.S. financial system.”

The pair allegedly made false and misleading statements to U.S. financial institutions that housed the accounts in order to mislead them about the source and lead the investigation away from Jho Low, the release stated.

The department announced Friday that it took action to forfeit and recover more than $73 million in funds associated with the international conspiracy.

Michel, 46, was a member of the Fugees alongside Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill and won two Grammys for his work with the group. He grew up in Irvington, and, like Hill, attended Columbia High School in Maplewood.

The department has not filed any charges against Michel, but last week Higginbotham was charged with one felony count of conspiracy to make false statements to a bank and he pled guilty to the charge on Friday, according to a report from ABC.

The report stated that last November, allegedly at Michel’s request, Higginbotham sent an email to a major bank and insisted that funds were being transferred to “from a legitimate company overseas for the purpose of an entertainment venture.” Higginbotham admitted in court that he knew what he said was not true and that the funds were going to be used to support Low.

UPDATE: Astonishing New Twist In 1MDB Saga Puts US Lobbying Industry Plus Rap Star In The Frame

http://www.sarawakreport.org/2018/12/astonishing-new-twist-in-1mdb-saga-puts-us-lobbying-industry-in-the-frame/

A statement released on Friday by the Department of Justice (DOJ) marking the opening of a brand new case related to 1MDB has revealed an astonishing new twist to the 1MDB saga, revealing that one of the department’s own officials has admitted to having been bribed by ‘the prime architect of 1MDB’ to influence decisions at the DOJ itself and to deceive banks.

The former DOJ employee, George Higginbotham, a senior congressional affairs specialist who worked there as late as August, has admitted to attempting to assist the funding of a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign orchestrated by this “prime architect of 1MDB’ to influence the civil and criminal cases involving the fund.

It is assumed the term ‘prime architect’ refers to fugitive financier Jho Low, who has engaged numerous agencies, lawyers and PR firms to advocate his position or his boss, ex-Malaysian PM, Najib Razak.

Tens of millions of dollars are claimed to have been involved and assisting as a front in these transfers was none other than the US rap singer Pras Michael, who has already been identified as a close friend of Jho Low’s involved in previous schemes linked to 1MDB.

“in 2017 Higginbotham helped facilitate the transfer of tens of millions of dollars from foreign bank accounts to accounts in the United States to finance a lobbying campaign to resolve civil and criminal matters related to the Department of Justice’s investigation of the embezzlement and bribery scheme concerning 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).  Higginbotham admitted that the foreign principal behind the lobbying campaign was alleged to be the primary architect of the 1MDB scheme.” [US Dept Justice Statement]

What the statement (see below in full) reveals is that this particular scheme to get conspirators off the hook over 1MDB took place as late as 2017, meaning during the run-up to Malaysia’s May election.

2

Elliot and Robin Broidy

Sarawak Report earlier reported on revelations that a key Trump fundraiser, Elliot Broidy and his wife, lawyer Robin Broidy, had been hired in conjuction with the former Trump campaign official Rick Gates to assist Najib and Jho Low.  Gates has now pleaded guilty to charges related to the Trump Russia case in the United States.

The original papers relating to the Broidy connection were passed to Sarawak Report by the organisation that calls itself Global Leaks, which is believed to be linked to a Quatar initiative designed to expose the activities of certain countries currently aligned against it in the Middle East.

Attempt to Snatch Back a Whistleblower?

It seems clear the case involving George Higginbotham is connected to the Broidys and one sinister aspect to the case is that part of the stated purpose of the lobbying was to “secure the removal of a foreign national” residing in the United States on a temporary visa and have him ” sent back to his country of origin”.

The conclusion would seem to be that Najib was trying to get his hands on a key witness or whistleblower who had sought refuge in the US, in order to get them back to Malaysia.

Key Role By US Rap Star Pras Michael

Singer Pras Michael

Singer Pras Michael

The 23 page court filing on the case provides astonishing details about the alleged multi-million dollar conspiracy, including the freezing of $73 million which the DOJ says was money laundered by the defendants.

Controlling the bank accounts allegedly being used to fund the lobbying operation was none other than the rap star Pras Michael, who was earlier identified in the Global Leaks material as the individual being used by Jho Low to pay lawyer Robin Broidy.

Pras Michael was also connected to what appears to have been a parallel scheme to attempt to influence the Obama administration, exposed by Sarawak Report in a series of investigations starting in 2015.

Obama man Frank White

Obama man Frank White

The singer was a partner of a relative and key fundraiser for Obama named Frank White, whose company DuSable was granted a major contract as part of a proposed solar power launched by 1MDB, which never materialised.

In a bizarre change of direction DuSable was subsequently awarded the role as fund manager for a vast new half billion dollar investment vehicle set up between the Abu Dhabi fund Aabar and a joint venture partner (suspected by Sarawak Report as being 1MDB) named Yurus.

Frank White’s partner in managing the Yurus fund was none other than Pras Michael, who seems to have emerged as a front for Jho Low. The entire Yurus venture was closed down shortly after Sarawak Report exposed Frank White’s connections with Malaysia, but not before DuSable appears to have received a $69 million management fee.

Sarawak Report also identified thousands of dollars, which were later paid from DuSable into several democrat campaigns and it would appear that the attempt to engage with Trump’s campaign manager Elliot Broidy, again using Pras Michael as the money manager, represented a similar strategy to influence decision making:

JHO LOW’s money was funneled through various U.S. bank accounts set up by, and under the control of, an entertainer and businessman named Prakazrel “Pras” MICHEL. With the assistance of George HIGGINBOTHAM, MICHEL opened multiple accounts at financial institutions in the United States to maintain money funneled into the United States at JHO LOW’s direction; however, the true source and purpose of the funds were not disclosed to the banks and were actively concealed from them. MICHEL then disbursed JHO LOW’s funds to various individuals and entities to facilitate a lobbying campaign to represent the interests of various foreign nationals and entities, including JHO LOW, in the United States [US Court filing against George Higginbotham]

[more details soon….]

Former Justice Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Deceive U.S. Banks about Millions of Dollars in Foreign Lobbying Funds

A former employee with the U.S. Department of Justice pleaded guilty today for his role in a conspiracy to deceive banks in the United States about the source and purpose of millions of dollars sent from overseas to finance a lobbying campaign on behalf of foreign interests, announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

George Higginbotham, 46, of Washington, D.C., who was employed at the Justice Department as a Senior Congressional Affairs Specialist from July 2016 to August 2018, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to make false statements to a bank before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia.

According to admissions made in connection with his plea, in 2017 Higginbotham helped facilitate the transfer of tens of millions of dollars from foreign bank accounts to accounts in the United States to finance a lobbying campaign to resolve civil and criminal matters related to the Department of Justice’s investigation of the embezzlement and bribery scheme concerning 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).  Higginbotham admitted that the foreign principal behind the lobbying campaign was alleged to be the primary architect of the 1MDB scheme.  Higginbotham, as a Justice Department employee, played no role in any aspect of the investigation and failed to influence any aspect of the Department’s investigation of 1MDB.  Higginbotham further admitted that another purpose of the lobbying campaign was an attempt to persuade high-level U.S. government officials to have a separate foreign national, who was residing in the United States on a temporary visa at the time, removed from the United States and sent back to his country of origin.

In order to conceal the identity of the foreign principal behind the lobbying campaign, Higginbotham admitted to conspiring to make false statements to financial institutions in the United States concerning the source and purpose of the funds.  Higginbotham also admitted to working on various fake loan and consulting documents in order to deceive banks and other regulators about the true source and purpose of the money.

The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General and the FBI are investigating the case.  Deputy Chief John Keller and Trial Attorneys Ryan Ellersick, James Mann, Sean Mulryne, and Nicole Lockhart of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, and Deputy Chief Woo Lee and Trial Attorney Joshua Sohn of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section are prosecuting the case.

USA DOJ ANNOUNCEMENT: Former Justice Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Deceive U.S. Banks about Millions of Dollars in Foreign Lobbying Funds

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-justice-department-employee-pleads-guilty-conspiracy-deceive-us-banks-about-millions

 

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, November 30, 2018

A former employee with the U.S. Department of Justice pleaded guilty today for his role in a conspiracy to deceive banks in the United States about the source and purpose of millions of dollars sent from overseas to finance a lobbying campaign on behalf of foreign interests, announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

George Higginbotham, 46, of Washington, D.C., who was employed at the Justice Department as a Senior Congressional Affairs Specialist from July 2016 to August 2018, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to make false statements to a bank before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia.

According to admissions made in connection with his plea, in 2017 Higginbotham helped facilitate the transfer of tens of millions of dollars from foreign bank accounts to accounts in the United States to finance a lobbying campaign to resolve civil and criminal matters related to the Department of Justice’s investigation of the embezzlement and bribery scheme concerning 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).  Higginbotham admitted that the foreign principal behind the lobbying campaign was alleged to be the primary architect of the 1MDB scheme.  Higginbotham, as a Justice Department employee, played no role in any aspect of the investigation and failed to influence any aspect of the Department’s investigation of 1MDB.  Higginbotham further admitted that another purpose of the lobbying campaign was an attempt to persuade high-level U.S. government officials to have a separate foreign national, who was residing in the United States on a temporary visa at the time, removed from the United States and sent back to his country of origin.

In order to conceal the identity of the foreign principal behind the lobbying campaign, Higginbotham admitted to conspiring to make false statements to financial institutions in the United States concerning the source and purpose of the funds.  Higginbotham also admitted to working on various fake loan and consulting documents in order to deceive banks and other regulators about the true source and purpose of the money.

The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General and the FBI are investigating the case.  Deputy Chief John Keller and Trial Attorneys Ryan Ellersick, James Mann, Sean Mulryne, and Nicole Lockhart of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, and Deputy Chief Woo Lee and Trial Attorney Joshua Sohn of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section are prosecuting the case.

USA DOJ ANNOUNCEMENT: U.S. Seeks to Recover over $73 Million in Proceeds Traceable to Bank Fraud to Conceal the Involvement of Jho Taek Low

 

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/us-seeks-recover-over-73-million-proceeds-traceable-bank-fraud-conceal-involvement-jho-taek

 

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, November 30, 2018

The Department of Justice announced today the filing of a civil forfeiture action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to forfeit and recover more than $73 million in funds associated with an international conspiracy to defraud U.S. financial institutions and to launder funds controlled by Jho Taek Low, also known as “Jho Low,” an individual who is the subject of an indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York, alleging that Low and others conspired to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Malaysia’s investment development fund, and pay hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to foreign officials, among other things.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI New York Field Office, and Special Agent in Charge Keith A. Bonanno of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (DOJ-OIG) Cyber Investigations Office.

As alleged in the forfeiture complaint, multiple bank accounts were opened at U.S. financial institutions by Prakazrel (“Pras”) Michel and former Justice Department employee George Higginbotham in 2017 to receive tens of millions of dollars in funds from overseas accounts controlled by Jho Low.  In opening these accounts, Michel and Higginbotham allegedly made false and misleading statements to U.S. financial institutions that housed the accounts in order to mislead these institutions about the source of the funds and to obscure Jho Low’s involvement in these transactions.  Michel and Higginbotham allegedly intended to use these funds to attempt to influence the Justice Department’s investigation of Jho Low and 1MDB.  As alleged in the complaint, Higginbotham, as a Justice Department employee, played no role in any aspect of the investigation and failed to influence any aspect of the Department’s investigation of Low or 1MDB.

“According to the allegations in the complaint, Michel and Higginbotham defrauded U.S. financial institutions and laundered millions of dollars into the United States as part of an effort to improperly influence the Department’s investigation into the massive embezzlement and bribery scheme involving 1MDB,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “The Criminal Division and our law enforcement partners will do everything we can to trace, seize, and forfeit the proceeds of foreign corruption that flow through the U.S. financial system.”

“Corruption is often at the root of national security, terrorism, and criminal threats, and those who seek to take advantage of our financial systems to perpetuate fraud and abuse will not be tolerated,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney.  “The FBI is committed to investigating and uncovering corruption no matter where it occurs, in conjunction with our domestic and international partners.”

“Ensuring the integrity of Department of Justice employees is of paramount importance,” said DOJ-OIG Special Agent in Charge Bonanno.  “An employee who facilitates or participates in this type of illicit activity will be thoroughly investigated by the OIG, including situations where attempts are made to influence the Department’s independence.”

This case was brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative by a team of dedicated prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, working in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, return those proceeds to benefit the people harmed by these acts of corruption and abuse of office.  Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption located in or laundered through the United States should contact federal law enforcement or send an email to [email protected] (link sends e-mail).

The investigation was conducted jointly by the FBI’s International Corruption Unit and the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Woo S. Lee, and Trial Attorneys Joshua L. Sohn and Rebecca A. Caruso of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance.

higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_000 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_001 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_002 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_003 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_004 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_005 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_006 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_007 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_008 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_009 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_010 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_011 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_012 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_013 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_014 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_015 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_016 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_017 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_018 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_019 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_020 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_021 higginbotham_forfeiture_complaint_0_022