A former Google engineer who pleaded guilty to stealing secrets from its self-driving car program was among those pardoned by Donald Trump on his last day in the White House.

Trump on Wednesday granted a full pardon to Anthony Levandowski in a move backed by billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, who were among the former president's scant supporters in Silicon Valley.

Levandowski was a founding member of an autonomous vehicle project in 2009 called "Chauffeur," one of Google's more ambitious undertakings.

Several years later Levandowski began thinking of leaving Google for another self-driving endeavor that was eventually named "Otto," the plea deal said.

He began negotiating with ridesharing giant Uber to invest in or buy Otto while he was still working at Google, and admits having downloaded a whole series of documents a few months before his resignation in January 2016.

"Prior to my departure, I downloaded thousands of files related to Project Chauffeur," Levandowski said in court documents when the plea deal was reached last year.

Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski was pardoned by Donald Trump before he stepped down as president Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski was pardoned by Donald Trump before he stepped down as president Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / JUSTIN SULLIVAN

Levandowski was sentenced to prison for theft of trade secrets. Prosecutors dropped other charges filed against him in the deal that avoided a trial, the court filing showed.

"Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good," read a statement from the outgoing president's press secretary that summarized 73 last-minute pardons granted by Trump.

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