US President Donald Trump has pardoned former chief strategist Steve Bannon as part of a late flurry of clemency action benefiting nearly 150 people.
The pardons and commutations for 143 people, including Bannon, were announced after midnight on Wednesday in the final hours of Trump’s White House term.
A statement from the White House said: “Prosecutors pursued Mr Bannon with charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project.
“Mr Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.”
Bannon had been charged with duping thousands of investors who believed their money would be used to fulfil Mr Trump’s chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border.
Instead, he allegedly diverted over a million dollars, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself.
In August, he was pulled from a luxury yacht off the coast of Connecticut and brought before a judge in Manhattan, where he pleaded not guilty.
Mr Trump has already pardoned a slew of long-time associates and supporters, including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law; his long-time friend and adviser Roger Stone; and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Besides Bannon, other pardon recipients included Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty last autumn in a scheme to lobby the Trump administration to drop an investigation into the looting of a Malaysian wealth fund, and Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a divorce.
Bannon’s pardon was especially notable given that the prosecution was still in its early stages and any trial was months away. Whereas pardon recipients are conventionally thought of as defendants who have faced justice, often by having served at least some prison time, the pardon nullifies the prosecution and effectively eliminates any prospect for punishment.
Wednesday’s list also includes rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, both convicted in Florida on weapons charges.
Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter, has frequently expressed support for Mr Trump and recently met with the president on criminal justice issues.
Others on the list included Death Row Records co-founder Michael Harris and New York art dealer and collector Hillel Nahmad.
Other pardon recipients include former Representative Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican who served three years for corruption, money laundering and other charges, and former Representative Duke Cunningham, who was convicted of accepting 2.4 million dollars in bribes from defence contractors. Cunningham, who was released from prison in 2013, received a conditional pardon.
Mr Trump also commuted the prison sentence of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has served about seven years behind bars for a racketeering and bribery scheme.
Bannon — who served in the Navy and worked at Goldman Sachs and as a Hollywood producer before turning to politics — led the conservative Breitbart News before being tapped to serve as chief executive officer of Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign in its critical final months.
He later served as chief strategist to the president during the turbulent early days of Trump’s administration and was at the forefront of many of its most contentious policies, including its travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries.
But Bannon, who clashed with other top advisers, was pushed out after less than a year. And his split with Mr Trump deepened after he was quoted in a 2018 book making critical remarks about some of Mr Trump’s adult children.
Bannon apologised and soon stepped down as chairman of Breitbart. He and Trump have recently reconciled.