Jho Low Paid RM89 Million For A Photo With The Obamas
Jho Low, who masterminded the multi-billion ringgit 1MDB scandal with jailed former prime minister Najib Razak, paid USD20 million to get photographed with Barack Obama and his wife in 2012
The Malaysian tycoon, whose real name is Low Taek Jho, had hired American rapper Prakazrel "Pras" Samuel Michel as his "celebrity surrogate" due to the latter having access to Obama's fundraising dinner in Washington DC, according to a Bloomberg report, covering Michel's illegal-lobbying trial.
At the time, Obama was the US President and Low was willing to "spend any type of money" to get his photo with Obama, as the current Malaysian fugitive's reputation made him "too hot" to get an invitation.
Michel told federal jurors that he initially agreed to help but at a price.
"I basically asked for USD1 million to begin to think about how I would get this photo," Michel said, adding that Low ultimately paid him USD20 million (RM89 million at the current exchange rate) over nine months, which led to the tycoon getting photographed with the Obamas at a White House Christmas party.
The rapper is accused of using straw donors to funnel illegal donations from Low into Obama's re-election campaign. He is also accused of later illegally lobbying US President Donald Trump's administration to drop the US Department of Justice (DOJ) probes of Low's alleged looting of billions of dollars from the 1MDB fund.
Low is allegedly hiding in China.
Here's a look at the photograph for which Low paid RM89 million:
By 2012, Low had already established himself as a "party guy"
According to Michel, he was involved in another fundraiser for Obama in Miami, Florida, where the entry was USD40,000 a head, but he was unsuccessful in convincing Obama's campaign team to invite Low.
"My understanding is that the campaign thought he was too hot. They didn't want the optics at that time. At that point, Low was a party guy — Vegas, champagne, parties with Paris Hilton," Michel said.
Instead, Low's father, Larry Lau Hock Peng, sat next to Obama at one point during the event.
Michel also described the funds from Low as "free money"
Prosecutors alleged that Michel was driven by greed and pocketed USD18 million of the USD20 million that Low paid to gain access to Obama. They also allege that Michel made at least USD70 million more for his role in a scheme to lobby the Trump administration to drop its investigations of Low.
"Once Low gave me the money, it was my money," Michel said, adding that the money was a gift, not income, and that he was free to do what he liked with it as he did not "work" for it.
"I would say it's free money. I didn't work for it. I was having fun trying to get a photo [with Low] for President Obama," Michel told prosecutor John Keller during his cross-examination.
Read more of our coverage on Low and Najib's involvement in 1MDB: