When, back in 2015, Sarawak Report flagged up suspicious payments that were plainly funded by 1MDB cash into Democrat campaigns for the Senate during the previous year, we guessed there was a wider story, especially given links we traced to Jho Low’s star associate, Pras Michel, a singer with the Fugees and the fact that the man behind those payments had been President Obama’s former campaign fundraiser, Frank White.
It turns out that 1MDB cash was indeed not only being funnelled into senate campaigns but into Obama’s re-election campaign as well, in what prosecutors say was a blatant effort to influence the US President.
The two stand charged of a whole string of campaign violations funnelling millions of dollars of foreign cash (stolen from Malaysia’s 1MDB ‘development fund’) as campaign contributions through a string of Pras Michel’s elite friends who acted as ‘Straw Donors’ to disguise the origin of the money.
Those campaigns included Obama’s 2012 presidential re-election campaign and prosecutors claim that Pras Michel fronted a hundred million dollars laundered into the US by the Malaysian fraudster.
What Sarawak Report had identified in November 2105 was that an American, Frank White, who had just been mysteriously awarded a lucrative joint venture role in a 1MDB sponsored ‘solar power project’ in Kedah, was none other than the chief campaign fund manager for Obama.
White had set up company for the purpose of this project named DuSable Capital and we noted it had provided several payments to Democrat campaigns for the 2014 Senate elections. It was clear that the company’s entire revenue originated from payments from 1MDB and that the joint venture, which later folded, appeared to be a front.
Our reporting identified further apparent links between Frank White, 1MDB and the fund’s secret manager on behalf of the Malaysian prime minister, Jho Low.
In particular, the PKR MP Wong Chen had noted that 1MDB appeared to have partnered, with Abu Dhabi’s IPIC sovereign wealth fund (an existing collaborator in 1MDB’s thefts) in the launch of a massive half billion dollar investment fund named Yuros in the United States.
The appointed managers of that enormous fund were Frank White (through DuSable) and the rap star Pras Michel, already known to be Jho Low’s Hollywood friend – but not known for any investment acumen or experience in this field.
After this exposure of the fund, Yuros was quickly closed down. However, DuSable had registered a profit of no less than $69 million as its ‘management fee’ for what appeared to have been non-existent investment advice.
According to the indictment in the case (which is currently opening with jury selection in New York) much of this money appears to have been secretly used by Jho Low and Michel to covertly influence democrat campaigns without the recipients or campaign managers (including White) apparently realising that the contributions were illegal foreign cash or that the purpose was to influence the Obama government on behalf of Najib Razak.
However, the widespread reporting of a 2014 game of Christmas golf between Najib and Obama had flagged up suspicions, now confirmed, that financial strings had indeed been pulled behind the scenes to gain Najib his access to the President of the United States.
The DOJ Indictment
As the indictment against Jho Low and Pras Michel makes clear, it is illegal under federal election law for foreign money originating from non-US citizens to be donated to a US election campaign.
This includes money passed by a foreign donor to what are termed ‘Straw Donors’, effectively legitimate US citizens who are fronting the money by claiming to have donated their own resources.
The indictment claims that from June to September 2012 in the period leading up to the Obama re-election campaign Jho Low had sent his friend Pras Michel no less than $12 million, channelled from 1MDB through off-shore and shell companies.
Pras had then “recruited his friends, associate and others to act as ‘straw donors” whom he paid “through checks, direct deposits and cash payments” who “in turn used the payments to make contributions to Political Committee A [Obama’s joint fundraising committee]”.
In total, MICHEL funneled approximately $865,000 from JHO LOW to Political Committee A through approximately 20 straw donors.
In addition to using straw donors to funnel foreign money from JHO LOW into Political Committee A, MICHEL used money from JHO LOW to make approximately $1.1 million in contributions to Political Committee B [supporting Obama] in his own name and the name of Company E [owned by Pras Michel], which concealed JHO LOW as the true source of the money.
It is stated in the indictment that Jho’s purpose in doing so was to gain influence in Washington on behalf of Najib, using their vast source of funding stolen from 1MDB.
“The defendants conspired to circumvent federal law against foreign influence … so that JHO LOW and MICHEL could buy access to, and potential influence with, a candidate [Obama], the candidate’s campaign, and the candidate’s administration.”
The indictment describes how Pras Michel worked hard to get Jho Low invited to closed circle fundraising events in order to meet with Obama, and when that was refused he “made efforts to raise his profile with [Obama’s] campaign and administration as a high dollar fundraiser, MICHEL also attended the fundraising events with numerous straw donors he recruited to make contributions to [Obama’s campaign committee].
The objective of ingratiating with Obama sheds a new and much more cynical light on Jho Low’s ostentatious efforts at the time to forge friendships with well known black entertainers in the US who might apparently help gain him entree with the country’s first black president.
Other ‘close celebrity friends’ included Alicia Keays and Swizz Beatz whom he likewise rewarded with lucrative engagements and lavish hospitality. However, as the indictment makes clear, it was not Pras Michel who was funding the campaigns but an illegal foreign donor, namely a man working for a foreign head of government, Najib, to influence the president of the United States.
To conceal the Malaysian money Pras Michel is charged with making false declarations to the recipients of the donations, posing as the high value celebrity donor whilst seeking to gain access on behalf of his ‘friend’ Jho Low.
As a successful rap singer the Fugees singer would have presented as a convincing figure in this regard. However, according to the indictment, it was a bogus act. He was merely a paid employee of Jho Low, acting as the front for the foreign donations and knowingly lying on official documents by claiming the money was his.
enough made a good alleged front In fact, Jho Low was acting as Pras Michel’s employer in this enterprise.
Furthermore, to avoid paying tax on the $21 million passed to him by Jho, Pras Michel is accused of falsely registering the money as a gift and falsely claiming the money he passed to his ‘straw donor’ associates were also gifts.
Evidence suggests that the motive was money. Despite his fame and success, the indictment claims that Pras Michel’s personal account contained just $1,343 dollars on the 18th June 2012 when $150,000 was transferred from a company owned by his financial advisor which in turn had just received a million dollars from one of Jho Low’s off-shore companies in the British Virgin Islands.
(this was just one month after the raising of $1.75 million through 1MDB’s first Goldman Sachs, much of which had been stolen by Jho and his co-conspirators).
Allegedly, Pras Michel promptly purchased a $40,000 ticket to an elite Obama fundraiser event in Florida, claiming the money was his despite extensive warnings on the invitation forms about election laws that prohibit the channelling of foreign money into such donations.
Later in the same month, he transferred another $200,000 and “began paying straw donors and directing them to make illegal conduit contributions to [the Obama re-election campaign committee]”.
There was a useful contact in this respect. Frank White was the National Vice Chair of that campaign committee, according to his own DuSable website.
His contract for the Solar Power project was granted shortly after DuSable was incorporated in May the following year – he registered the company as a foreign agent for the government of Malaysia (under FARA – the Foreign Agents Registration Act) in October 2013.
Despite the donations of nearly half a million dollars it appears Pras Michel’s efforts to reward Jho with access to Obama failed.
“June 25, 2012, JHO LOW traveled from Singapore to Miami, Florida on his private jet to attend the fundraising event and meet Candidate A [Obama]. MICHEL attempted to get last-minute permission for JHO LOW to attend the event, but permission was denied shortly before the event began.”
Pras Michel and his straw donors on the other hand were able to attend and took pictures with the president.
Later in August Jho Low allegedly passed another $9,600,000 into Pras Michel’s personal account and that of another company directly owned by the rap star.
The company account contained $50 before receiving $9 million from an off-shore account belonging to Jho Low.
This means that when he proceeded to funnel a further $800,000 from the company to further straw donors who made campaign contributions that cash can allegedly be directly attributed to Jho Low’s foreign stolen money from Malaysia, as opposed to Pras Michel’s legitimate money earned in the United States.
According to the indictment this makes the donations illegal under the law. They further claim Pras Michel was aware of this because when one straw donor refused to pay the money on the grounds it was illegal, he did not challenge their refusal.
To cover the payments Pras Michel’s financial advisor arranged for letters to be sent from Jho Low describing them as a gift.
Meanwhile, although he was hiding his donations, Jho Low continued to attempt to gain access to Obama fundraisers for himself, his father, who was a co-conspirator in the money laundering of 1MDB and unnamed foreign associates.
Pras Michel passed their requests to an unnamed high ranking campaign official in the fundraising committee in an attempt to get an invitation one event Obama was due to attend in September. Jho Low’s father and the friends gained access, however it seems Jho himself was unable to provide his passport details. The party took numerous photos of themselves and Obama.
Later in November, after Pras Michal had allegedly run his personal account down to just $500, Jho allegedly sent another $11 million to his company. Meanwhile, using Jho Low’s money Pras Michel proceeded to make a series of enormous further donations to the Obama campaign from companies he directly owned – three donations made in September and October 2012 totalled $1,125,000.
All these donations were falsely reported by the singer as having been from himself and his straw donors in the forms he was required to submit under the election campaign legislation in the United States. In turn the campaigns themselves submitted false information based on his claims.
In June 2015, following Sarawak Report’s exposure of 1MDB and of the involvement of Frank White in the fund, a complaint was submitted to the Federal Election Commission in Washington, the indictment says.
However, when questioned, Pras Michel signed a false statement under pain of perjury, claiming that the donations were all legitimately made and concealing Jho Low as the source of the money.
As Sarawak Report also exclusively reported in the wake of the ‘Global Leaks’ release, Jho Low then moved to pour vast sums into the Republican Party campaign network after Trump took office, seeking to influence the new administration to quash the DOJ investigations into 1MDB that had been started in 2015.
Broidy, a Hawaii based PR executive, Nicky Lum Davis, and a former DOJ lawyer, George Higgenbotham have all pleaded guilty to conspiring with Jho Low in the affair. Pras Michel is alleged to have continued to act as a conduit for the vast sums of cash Jho Low paid to Broidy as Chair of the Republican Party to influence the government, but has denied it.
By this time Jho Low was also doing the bidding of the Chinese government who had facilitated the cover-up over 1MDB. It led to him also lobbying the same actors in the US to lend influence to the extradition requests made by China for their own fugitive billionaire Miles Guo, who had taken refuge in the United States.
Again Pras Michel has been accused of acting as Jho Low’s stooge, passing payments as an undeclared lobbyist for foreign interests, which is illegal.
A grand jury has recommended he stand trial which began this week.