WASHINGTON (AP) — A rapper and founding member of the 1990s hip-hop group The Fugees is fighting the U.S. government over a multimillion-dollar forfeiture complaint.
Prakazrel “Pras” Michel faces allegations in a civil forfeiture complaint that he aided a scheme to try to get the Justice Department to drop an investigation into embezzlement from a Malaysian investment fund.
The complaint says Michel was engaged by the brother of Jho Low, a fugitive Malaysian financer charged by the Justice Department last year with embezzling money from the fund to pay for a luxurious lifestyle, to join the illicit lobbying effort. It says Michel helped by opening bank accounts under false pretenses to finance the scheme. Justice Department officials are trying to recover roughly $38 million from Michel that they say can be connected to that effort.
A former Justice Department official, George Higginbotham, pleaded guilty in November for his role in that lobbying, marking the first public acknowledgement of a secret attempt to pressure American officials to drop their probe of the fund known as 1MDB. The embezzlement from the fund became a political scandal in Malaysia, with money spent on diamond jewelry, high-end artwork, luxury art and to finance “The Wolf of Wall Street” and other Hollywood productions.
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Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Michel, asked Monday to dismiss the complaint. He said the Justice Department failed to present sufficient allegations of bank fraud, conspiracy and false statements, or that the funds in the accounts the government wants to seize were proceeds of fraud.
Pollack requested a hearing on his arguments.
Michel has denied wrongdoing. He told The Washington Post in a statement last month that his name was being “dragged through the mud” and said, “I have never conspired to commit any crime, nor defraud any organization, in this case or otherwise.”
Prosecutors say Higginbotham, who worked on the congressional affairs staff in the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, helped open bank accounts and created false loan documents for shell companies as part of the scheme.