Leonardo DiCaprio Testifies in Money Laundering Case Involving Fugees Member Pras Michel

Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Save

Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Save
Photo Credit: Georges Biard / CC by 3.0

Leonardo DiCaprio testifies in a money laundering case involving Fugees member Pras Michel.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio appeared Monday in a federal courthouse in Washington to testify in a criminal case against rapper Pras Michel, a member of the hip-hop trio The Fugees. 

DiCaprio spent more than an hour on the witness stand, recounting nearly endless lavish parties where he met Malaysian businessman Jho Low — from whom Michel allegedly took over $80 million to support Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential bid and later to buy influence with Donald Trump’s administration.

“He had a multitude of different parties,” said DiCaprio of Low, who remains at large and was recently convicted in absentia by a Kuwaiti court for fraud and sentenced to 10 years in prison. “Some of them were on boats. Some were at nightclubs, dinners…”

Low was a friend of DiCaprio and Michel for years, ultimately becoming a significant funder of DiCaprio’s 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street. US prosecutors allege Low was the architect of a multibillion-dollar fraud scheme involving Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

In 2016, the US Justice Department sought to seize the future profits from the film, arguing that Low paid his sizeable investment with money stolen from 1MDB. Ultimately, the feds settled for a $60 million payout, passed to Malaysia’s government.

DiCaprio testified that he discussed with Low prior to the 2012 US presidential election, in which Low “mentioned in passing” that he and a group of partners would contribute significantly to the Democratic Party.

“I recall him saying a significant sum, something to the tune of $20-$30 million,” stated DiCaprio. “I said, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money.'”

The prosecution alleges that Low was not a US citizen and lacked a US green card, thus was not eligible to donate to US political campaigns. While DiCaprio testified that Low mentioned “partners,” it’s unclear who they might have been and whether they could have legally donated.

The indictment alleges that Low transferred over $21 million to the US to back Obama in the 2012 presidential race. Michel allegedly donated about $865,000 to the Obama campaign through straw donors and approximately $1 million to a super PAC supporting Obama.

While Michel’s defense attorney, David Kenner, passed on the opportunity to give an opening statement last week, he has suggested that it is unrealistic to expect Michel to know details about Low’s citizenship or his alleged misdeeds. 

His cross-examination of DiCaprio further supports Kenner’s suggestion. With the extensive vetting performed by the actor’s lawyer, his production team, and Paramount Pictures on Low and other parties involved in funding Wolf of Wall Street, how could Michel have been expected to know details when more experienced vetters than he missed telltale signs of trouble in Low’s background? 

“My understanding was I was given the green light by my team, as well as the studio, to accept financing from Mr. Low,” said DiCaprio.

In 2018, DiCaprio testified in the same building before a grand jury investigating Michel. DiCaprio said he’d known Michel since his time as part of the Fugees in the ’90s, and he met the band backstage at a concert. The two have been social friends ever since, said DiCaprio.