WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Fugees rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel appeared in court on Thursday and told reporters he is innocent of criminal charges that he conspired to funnel foreign funds into Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential re-election, while also plugging his upcoming album.
FILE PHOTO: Prakazrel Michel of the band The Fugees, poses with his Grammy awards for Best R & B Performance by a Duo or Group category for “Killing Me Softly With His Song” at the 39th Grammy Awards in New York City, U.S., February 30, 1997. REUTERS/Jeff Christensen
Michel said he has no plans to take a plea deal if offered one and that “every issue and everything that has been said around here” will be addressed on his new nine-track extended-play album.
“I’m totally innocent and my lawyer’s going to handle the whole trial and we’re in full compliance,” he said after appearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“More importantly, I want everybody to understand that I’m just working on my ‘Elon Musk’ EP. It’s coming out next month. I’m totally focused on that.”
Last week, the Justice Department unsealed charges against Michel and Low Taek Jho, a wealthy Malaysian businessman with a tabloid partying reputation known as “Jho Low,” alleging they conspired to steer foreign campaign contributions into Obama’s 2012 campaign. It is a crime for foreign nationals to make political contributions in U.S. federal, state or local elections.
Federal prosecutors say foreign funds totaling more than $21 million were funneled by Low into the election, with some of the funds masked as legitimate campaign contributions through straw donors and others listed under Michel’s name.
Michel, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, wore a navy blue blazer, jeans and sneakers for his first appearance before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who will preside over the case.
His attorney, Barry Pollack, told the judge he plans to file motions to dismiss the indictment, and intends to argue that prosecutors brought the charges well after the five-year statute of limitations had expired.
Michel remains free on bond and is permitted to travel to his homes in California and Florida.
Although he has sought permission to skip some of the less substantive hearings, Kollar-Kotelly warned Michel on Thursday that he should remain an active participant in his own defense.
Low remains at large and is also wanted by the United States in a separate case in connection with a multi-billion-dollar scandal at Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
A spokeswoman for Low previously told Reuters he is not guilty in the election fraud case.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bill Trott