World

Pras Michel of Fugees says he's innocent of U.S. election fraud charges

Former Fugees rapper Prakazrel (Pras) Michel appeared in court on Thursday and told reporters he is innocent of criminal charges he conspired to funnel foreign funds into Barack Obama's 2012 presidential re-election, while also plugging his upcoming album.

It is alleged Michel, Malaysian fugitive illegally funnelled foreign money towards 2012 Obama campaign

Former Fugees singer Pras Michel, shown at a 2016 event in Los Angeles, told reporters Thursday after appearing in court that he isn't guilty of charges relating to foreign funds funnelled into Barack Obama's 2012 presidential re-election. (Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images)

Former Fugees rapper Prakazrel (Pras) Michel appeared in court on Thursday and told reporters he is innocent of criminal charges that he conspired to funnel foreign funds into Barack Obama's 2012 presidential re-election, while also plugging his upcoming album.

Michel, 46, said he has no plans to take a plea deal if offered one, and "every issue and everything that has been said around here" will be addressed on his new nine-track extended-play album.

"I'm totally innocent, and my lawyer's going to handle the whole trial and we're in full compliance," he said after appearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

"More importantly, I want everybody to understand that I'm just working on my Elon Musk EP. It's coming out next month. I'm totally focused on that."

Last week, the Justice Department unsealed charges against Michel and Low Taek Jho, a wealthy Malaysian businessman with a tabloid partying reputation who's known as Jho Low, alleging they conspired to steer foreign campaign contributions into Obama's campaign. It is a crime for foreign nationals to make political contributions in U.S. federal, state or local elections.

More importantly, I want everybody to understand that I'm just working on my Elon Musk EP. It's coming out next month. I'm totally focused on that.- Pras Michel

Federal prosecutors say foreign funds totalling more than $21 million US were funnelled by Low into the election, with some of the funds masked as legitimate campaign contributions through straw donors and others listed under Michel's name.

Michel was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States government and for making foreign and conduit campaign contributions, as well as one count of a scheme to conceal material facts and two counts of making a false entry in a record in connection with the conspiracy.

Jho Low, shown in 2015, is wanted on an assortment of charges in the U.S. and Malaysia. He remains at large. (Stuart Ramson/Invision for the United Nations Foundation/AP)

Michel, who has pleaded not guilty, wore a navy blue blazer, jeans and sneakers for his first appearance before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

His lawyer, Barry Pollack, told the judge he plans to file motions to dismiss the indictment, and intends to argue that prosecutors brought the charges well after the five-year statute of limitations had expired.

Michel remains free on bond, and is permitted to travel to his homes in California and Florida.

Although he has sought permission to skip some of the less substantive hearings, Kollar-Kotelly warned Michel on Thursday that he should remain an active participant in his own defence.

Low remains at large and is also wanted by the United States in a separate case in connection with a multibillion-dollar scandal at Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

A spokesperson for Low previously told Reuters he is not guilty in the election fraud case.

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