Leonardo DiCaprio gives evidence in Fugees rapper Michel’s money-laundering case

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Movie star Leonardo DiCaprio has given evidence in US federal court as part of a trial involving international money laundering, bribery and a prominent rap artist.

Prakazrel “Pras” Michel — a founding member of 1990s hip-hop group The Fugees — is accused of funnelling money from a fugitive Malaysian financer through straw donors to Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Five years later, prosecutors say he tried to halt an investigation into the financer under Donald Trump’s administration.

At the heart of the case is Low Taek Jho, usually known as Jho Low. He is accused of masterminding an international money laundering and bribery scheme that stole billions from the Malaysian state investment fund known as 1MDB.

Rapper Charged
Prakazrel ‘Pras’ Michel arrives at federal court (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Low is currently a fugitive but has maintained his innocence.

According to the charges, Michel essentially became a conduit for Low’s millions and his attempts to influence the US government.

Prosecutors in federal court in Washington DC allege that from June to November 2012, Low directed more than 21.6 million dollars (£17.4 million) to be moved from foreign entities to Michel’s accounts to funnel money into the 2012 presidential election.

They say Michel then paid about 20 straw donors and conduits so they could make the donations in their names and conceal where the money came from, according to the indictment.

DiCaprio said he met and befriended Low at a birthday 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.

The 48-year-old Oscar winner answered questions in the witness box calmly — occasionally deferring to a fuzzy memory on some details and dates.

Brit Awards Fugees.
The Fugees were named Best International Group at the Brit Awards in 1997 (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Low was known for hosting lavish star-studded parties and group vacations on his private jet to events like the World Cup in Brazil.

DiCaprio recounted one junket that involved flying to Australia to celebrate New Year’s Eve, then flying to Las Vegas to celebrate a second time in one day.

Michel was present on some of these trips, DiCaprio said.

Low became a regular contributor to DiCaprio’s charitable foundation, and eventually the Malaysian floated the idea of providing the primary financing for The Wolf Of Wall Street.

DiCaprio said he had Low’s funding and legitimacy carefully vetted before entering into a business relationship.

“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 the financer said he intended to make a large contribution to Mr Obama’s re-election campaign.

“It was a significant sum — something to the tune of 20-30 million dollars,” he told the hearing. “I said, ‘Wow that’s a lot of money!’”

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