Steve Bannon, one of the famous ideologists closely involved in Donald Trump
His rise to the US presidency, and turned himself in to face fraud charges in New York
New York (AFP) – Former adviser to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, was charged Thursday with fraud over a scheme to embezzle millions of dollars donated to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.
Bannon, 68, a far-right ideologue closely involved in Trump’s rise to the US presidency, turned himself in earlier in the day to face the accusations in New York.
He was standing outside the Manhattan attorney general’s office, accusing the judiciary of “persecuting him.”
Bannon and a nonprofit organization called We Build The Wall have been charged with money laundering, conspiracy and fraud over what prosecutors said was a year-long fundraising scheme that got more than $15 million from donors based on false promises.
“It’s a crime to make profits by lying to donors, and in New York, you will be held accountable,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said when he announced the charges at a news conference.
Federal fraud charges were brought against Bannon in 2020 over the same allegations, but Trump pardoned him before he was brought to trial.
Building a wall along the US-Mexico border was a major promise made by Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign.
“There cannot be one set of rules for the common people and another set for the rich and powerful — we must all play by the same rules and we must obey the law,” said Letitia James, New York state attorney general.
“Mr. Bannon took advantage of the political views of his donors to secure the millions of dollars he subsequently embezzled. Mr. Bannon lied to donors to enrich himself and his friends.”
– ‘Never shut up on me’ –
CNN quoted Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello, as saying the former counsel would not plead guilty.
Walking handcuffed across the aisle to the courtroom, Bannon vowed they would “never silence me.”
The mood echoed a statement he issued on Tuesday, denouncing the “spurious lawsuits” brought against him 60 days before the November 8 midterm legislative elections.
He criticized the “armed partisan politicization of the criminal justice system”.
The criminal indictment comes six weeks after Bannon was found guilty in federal court in Washington of obstructing congressional investigative powers.
He had refused to cooperate with a House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill by Trump supporters.
Even after leaving the White House in August 2017, Bannon remained close to Trump, speaking with him the day before the Capitol riots.
Trump himself is the focus of multiple investigations, including the New York investigation into his business practices, the legal scrutiny of his efforts to nullify the results of the 2020 election, and regarding the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The FBI is also investigating Trump’s handling of classified material, after his Florida home was raided.