The Justice Department revealed new charges against a U.S. entertainer and a Malaysian businessman related to a lobbying scheme. The scheme was orchestrated in part by a Chinese security minister attempting to get the DOJ to drop charges against a corrupt company and to send a fugitive billionaire back to China.
The DOJ said on Friday that a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia had returned a superseding indictment charging former Fugees rapper Prakazrel Michel and Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho with “orchestrating an unregistered, back-channel campaign” beginning in about 2017 to attempt to influence the Trump administration and the DOJ to drop “the investigation of Jho Low and others in connection with the international strategic and development company known as 1Malaysia Development Berhad” and “to send a Chinese dissident” back to China.
The dissident, Steve Bannon ally Guo Wengui, has been accused by China of committing fraud, blackmail, and bribery, which he denies, and he is currently a fugitive living in the United States, where he helps run the anti-CCP GTV Media Group with Bannon. When Bannon himself was indicted on fraud charges last year, for which then-President Donald Trump pardoned him, he was found by U.S. authorities aboard a $24 million yacht owned by Guo.
Low and Michel have been accused of conspiring with former Republican National Committee Deputy Finance Chairman Elliott Broidy, longtime political consultant and donor Nickie Lum Davis, and others “to engage in undisclosed lobbying campaigns at the direction of Low and the Vice Minister of Public Security for the People’s Republic of China,” who is identified in multiple reports as Sun Lijun, “to have the 1MDB embezzlement investigation and forfeiture proceedings involving Low and others dropped,” and to force Guo, a controversial vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party, out of the U.S.
China’s Ministry of Public Security leads China’s internal security and law enforcement operations and is also involved in the Communist Party’s national security, espionage, and intelligence-gathering efforts.
Low and Michel “are also charged with conspiring to commit money laundering related to the foreign influence campaigns,” while Michel “is also charged with witness tampering and conspiracy to make false statements to banks.” Low and Michel had previously been charged in 2019 “for allegedly orchestrating and concealing a foreign and conduit contribution scheme” during the 2012 presidential election, and the charges were then expanded this week.
“Between June 2012 and November 2012, Low directed the transfer of approximately $21,600,000 from foreign entities and accounts to Michel for the purpose of funneling significant sums of money into the United States presidential election as purportedly legitimate contributions, all while concealing the true source of the money,” the DOJ said in 2019. “To facilitate the excessive contributions and conceal their true source, Michel paid approximately $865,000 of the money received from Low to about 20 straw donors, or conduits, so that the straw donors could make donations in their names to a presidential joint fundraising committee. In addition, Michel personally directed more than $1 million of the money received from Low to an independent expenditure committee also involved in the presidential election in 2012.”
Broidy, a former top fundraiser for the Trump campaign in 2016, was indicted last year for conspiring to serve as an unregistered foreign agent to defraud the U.S. related to this same scheme, and he pleaded guilty in October.
The DOJ said Broidy “specifically agreed to lobby” the Trump administration and the DOJ “to drop or otherwise favorably resolve its matters” against Low. Prosecutors also said that Broidy, Davis, and Person A also “agreed to lobby” Trump and the DOJ “to arrange for the removal and return of People’s Republic of China National A,” believed to be Guo, all on behalf of Low, in a scheme that “involved, among other things, advocating for meetings between PRC Minister A and United States government officials.” Throughout all of this, Broidy failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act as required by law.
The secretive foreign lobbying efforts by Broidy and his compatriots were ultimately unsuccessful. A federal court entered judgments against $700 million in assets acquired by Low and his family located in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Switzerland back in 2019, and the DOJ said in April that the U.S. “has recovered or assisted in the recovery of more than $1 billion in assets associated with the 1MDB international money laundering and bribery scheme.”
Davis pleaded guilty before a federal court in Hawaii last August to one count of aiding and abetting the violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, admitting to her role in “facilitating an unregistered lobbying campaign,” and to being paid at least $3 million for her role in the scheme, which agreed to forfeit the money as part of her plea. And George Higginbotham, who had worked as a senior congressional affairs specialist with the DOJ, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to make false statements in admitting his role in the scheme in 2018.