Leonardo DiCaprio testifies for prosecution at trial of Fugees rapper Pras Michel


Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio took the stand Monday as the first blockbuster witness in the star-studded trial of former Fugees member Pras Michel.

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Michel is accused of participating in a global campaign-finance conspiracy funded by Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman who allegedly stole billions of dollars from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. Michel has pleaded not guilty.

DiCaprio, who reportedly testified to the grand jury that handed up Michel’s indictment, is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Though both Michel and Low are both facing charges in the US, Low remains at large so Michel is on trial alone.

DiCaprio testified for about an hour on his relationship with Low in a bid by prosecutors to show that Low used stolen money to curry favor with actors, models and politicians in the United States. It’s likely that prosecutors are using DiCaprio as a charismatic figure to both explain the extent of the alleged Malaysian money scheme, and also to bring star power that would outshine even Michel.

Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, center, a member of the 1990s hip-hop group the Fugees, accompanied by defense lawyer David Kenner, right, arrives at federal court for his trial in an alleged campaign finance conspiracy, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Prosecutors say former Fugees rapper tried to illegally influence Washington for foreign businessman
When government prosecutors called DiCaprio as a witness, several members of the jury who had appeared bored during the previous witness snapped to attention. One juror’s head shot up from her hands, while another looked around excitedly. A third juror quietly clapped his hands together and leaned back in his seat.

DiCaprio entered the courtroom in a blue suit surrounded by US Marshals. He spoke slowly during his testimony, and at times was so quiet that District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who is presiding over the case, had to ask him to speak up.

“At the risk of asking a stupid question, what do you do for a living” prosecutor Nicole Lockhart said to DiCaprio, asking him to introduce himself.

“I am an actor,” DiCaprio responded.

Leonardo DiCaprio testifies for prosecution at trial of Fugees rapper Pras Michel.
Leonardo DiCaprio testifies for prosecution at trial of Fugees rapper Pras Michel.
Bill Hennessy
Testified about relationship to Low
According to prosecutors, Low and DiCaprio were introduced by the stepson of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who was charged in Malaysia in connection with the 1MDB corruption scandal.

On Monday, DiCaprio told jurors about attending Low’s birthday party in Las Vegas around 2010, which was their first introduction. DiCaprio said he understood Low to be “sort of a prodigy in the business world and ultra-successful.”

DiCaprio also said he met Michel in the 1990s and had attended a Fugees concert. DiCaprio said that it was possible Michel attended a Thanksgiving meal at his home, but that “memory does not serve.”

When DiCaprio was asked to identify Michel in the courtroom, Michel leaned back and waved to the actor.

Low and DiCaprio’s relationship was purely social at the beginning, DiCaprio testified, recounting “a multitude of lavish parties” around the world, several of which Michel also allegedly attended. In one instance, DiCaprio said that Low flew several celebrities to Australia for New Year’s Eve, and then flew them back to Las Vegas in time celebrate the new year again.

“Did you make it back in time to celebrate” again in Las Vegas, Michel’s defense attorney David Kenner asked.

“It depends on how you look at it,” DiCaprio responded. The courtroom erupted in laughter.

DiCaprio told the jury that he spoke with Low in 2012 about the ongoing presidential election.

“It was a causal conversation about what party he was in support of, I told him what party I was in support of,” DiCaprio said. “And he told me that he, or he and a group, were going to make a significant contribution to the Democratic Party,” he said, noting the donation was around $20 million or $30 million.

“I said ‘wow, that’s a lot of money,’” DiCaprio said.

Prosecutors allege that money was stolen from 1MDB, and that Michel helped Low make donations through a series of straw donors.

Low eventually offered to fund a movie for DiCaprio, he testified. DiCaprio’s lawyers, a production company, and a third party all conducted background checks into Low and his finances, DiCaprio said, and gave DiCaprio the green light to make a deal with Low.

Leonardo DiCaprio testifies for prosecution at trial of Fugees rapper Pras Michel.
Leonardo DiCaprio testifies for prosecution at trial of Fugees rapper Pras Michel.
Prosecutors allege that Low laundered money from 1MDB through a Los Angeles-based movie production company, Red Granite Pictures. Red Granite allegedly used some of the laundered money to fund movies, including DiCaprio’s 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” DiCaprio thanked Low by name while accepting a Golden Globe for his role in the film.

Low also gave money to DiCaprio’s environmental foundation, he testified, by purchasing a painting at a fundraising event and making donations through other businesses entities.

DiCaprio testified that he stopped speaking to Low around 2015, when his representatives discovered an article that alleged Low was using “illegal funding from Malaysia and a multitude of other places.”

In 2016, prosecutors moved to seize assets from “The Wolf of Wall Street,” as well as a Picasso painting that an associate of Low’s allegedly bought with stolen funds and gifted to DiCaprio.

A spokesperson for DiCaprio previously told CNN that the actor is working with US prosecutors to return any funds he or his charities received from 1MDB.

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