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From the Fugees to the Dock, Michel on Trial in Politics-Heavy Case

Pras Michel came to worldwide attention in the 1990s when his band Fugees released one of the best-selling and most-streamed albums of all time. But today, as jury selection begins in his trial on multiple federal charges, Michel faces possibly decades in prison in a case filled with allegations of political maneuvering and international intrigue, NPR reports. The charges Michel faces in a Washington, D.C., court include conspiracy, witness tampering and failing to register as an agent of China, all stemming from the 50-year-old's efforts to refashion himself as a businessman and political force in the U.S. and in Haiti, his parents' homeland. Prosecutors have alleged that he received more than $100 million through his ties to billionaire fugitive Jho Low, who allegedly bilked Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund of billions of dollars to fill his own pockets and curry favor with celebrities and American presidents.

Prosecutors put Michel in the middle of two different sets of alleged crimes: first, an illegal plan to enlist people to attend a fundraising dinner for Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential campaign; reimburse them $40,000 apiece using foreign sources of money for the cost of the tickets; and then threatening some of them if they came clean to authorities. The second plan allegedly involved a secret lobbying campaign to help Low lean on American justice officials and White House officials when his fraud scheme unraveled — and to help the Chinese government "secure the return" of a dissident who was living inside the U.S. and developing close ties with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. The FBI arrested that dissident, Miles Guo, earlier this month for allegedly orchestrating a separate financial fraud. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has largely excluded evidence about that case from the Michel trial. A number of people tied to Michel's far-flung alleged plan already have pleaded guilty or secured immunity from the government including George Higginbotham, a former Justice Department lawyer moonlighting on work for Michel while he served in the government. In court filings, Michel signaled the outlines of his defense: arguing that he relied on advice from lawyers and that he thought he was acting in the interests of the United States. In court last week, prosecutor John Keller estimated the Justice Department could call as many as 30 witnesses, with a defense attorney estimating around the same number.


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