On Monday, Leonardo DiCaprio testified in court in the ongoing money laundering and bribery trial involving Fugees man Pras Michel.
Prakazrel ‘Pras’ Michel is a member of the influential 1990s hip-hop trio Fugees, alongside Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean. He is accused of funnelling funds from a fugitive Malaysian financier through straw donors to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. Prosecutors say that five years later, he also attempted to stifle an investigation into the same financier when Donal Trump was in power.
The financier at the centre of the case is Low Taek Jho, more commonly known as Jho Low. He is accused of masterminding an international money laundering and bribery plot that stole billions from the Malaysian state investment fund, 1MDB.
DiCaprio’s connection to the case follows his friendship with Low, who was a principal financer of 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Per the charges, Michel became a conduit for Low’s millions and his attempts to impact US politics. Prosecutors claim that between June and November 2012, Low directed more than $21.6m to be moved from foreign entities to Michel’s accounts to fund the 2012 campaign. After, they claim that Michel paid around 20 straw donors and other conduits so the donations could be made and the source of the money hidden.
On Monday, DiCaprio testified that he first met and became friendly with Low at a party in Las Vegas in 2010. “I understood him to be a huge businessman with many different connections in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia,” he said. He also claimed that he had known Michel since sometime in the 1990s.
After going on trips together, Low became a regular contributor to DiCaprio’s charity, and eventually, the Malaysian businessman suggested providing the primary capital for The Wolf of Wall Street. The actor maintained he had Low’s legitimacy carefully vetted before going ahead. “I was given the green light by my team as well as my studio,” he said. “He was a legitimate business person wanting to invest in the movie.”
DiCaprio also recalled a “casual” conversation with Low in which he told him he desired to significantly contribute to Obama’s re-election run. “It was a significant sum – something to the tune of $20-30m,” the actor said. “I said, ‘Wow that’s a lot of money!'”
Following DiCaprio, numerous witnesses testified before the court that they had been approached by Michel to make shadow contributions to Obama’s campaign.
This is a developing story.