The news does not come at the right time for Donald Trump, in full campaign for his re-election. Steve Bannon, former adviser to the US president, was charged and arrested on Thursday August 20 – he allegedly embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to support the iconic Trump presidency project to erect a wall on the Mexican border. The one who was one of the architects of the New York mogul’s presidential campaign in 2016 is accused of having – along with three other officials of the “We Build The Wall” page of the platform of GoFundMe Crowdfunding – Embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars for “personal expenses,” Manhattan Federal Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.
Steve Bannon, 66, pleaded not guilty on Thursday before a federal judge in Manhattan to the two charges against him, fraud and money laundering. Released on $ 5 million in bail, he walked out of court about two hours later, removing his anti-Covid mask to smile broadly at the journalists waiting for him. Tanned, white hair in the wind, he quickly got into a car, not without releasing a few cameras: “This whole fiasco aims to stop the people who want to build the wall. “
According to New York Times, he was arrested in the morning on a yacht off Connecticut belonging to Guo Wengui, a wealthy Chinese businessman exiled in New York. A good connoisseur of China, Steve Bannon notably organized a press conference with Guo Wengui in November 2018. The former boss of the Breitbart News site, close to the far right, now risks long years in prison. Each count brought against him carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Trump denies knowledge of crowdfunding project
Shortly after the announcement of his arrest, Donald Trump reacted by claiming first “to know nothing about this crowdfunding project”, then “to dislike” the idea of raising private funds to finance this wall. The American president, whom several polls currently give as the loser to Democrat Joe Biden for the November election, added that he “had no contact with [Steve Bannon] for a long time “.
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After internal conflicts, Steve Bannon, initially very influential, had to leave the White House in August 2017. He has since tried to approach the European far-right parties, notably appearing alongside Marine Le Pen during a National Front convention in 2018. Steve Bannon joined six members of the entourage of the American president indicted and convicted, including Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone.
Bannon the “volunteer”
While they assured donors that all the money raised via the site would be used to erect the wall – a symbol of Donald Trump’s policy of hardening migration – Steve Bannon and the other three officials embezzled some of the funds, notably by means of false invoices, according to the indictment released Thursday. Steve Bannon, who publicly claimed to contribute in a “voluntary” way to this project, resorted for these embezzlements to a non-profit organization which he controlled and through which more than a million dollars would have passed, specifies the document.
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The first suspicions would have started shortly after the launch of “We Build The Wall” in December 2018, which had been an immediate success with $ 17 million raised in the first week. “Despite this early success, the operation has raised questions, especially because of the past of its founder, Brian Kolfage, and the site’s intention to donate the money raised to the federal government to build the wall,” says the indictment. With the GoFundMe platform quickly threatening to suspend the page if Brian Kolfage did not identify a nonprofit recipient of the funds, Kolfage would then have involved Steve Bannon, who was already setting up such an organization to promote “American sovereignty and the economic nationalism ”.
Brian Kolfage, 37, accused of embezzling $ 350,000 to finance “a luxury lifestyle” including the purchase of a boat, a golf cart and cosmetic surgery, was arrested for the same heads that Steve Bannon, as well as Andrew Badolato, 56, and Timothy Shea, 49, all involved in the management of this fundraiser. Kolfage and Badolato were also due to appear on Thursday before federal judges in Florida, while Timothy Shea was due in federal court in Colorado.
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Donald Trump has made the construction of a “wall” supposed to prevent illegal immigration on the more than 3,000 kilometers of border separating the United States and Mexico a leitmotif of his presidency. During his 2016 campaign, his supporters often chanted “Build that wall” during his meetings.