From The New York Times (August 17th):
WASHINGTON — Erik Prince, whose company, Blackwater Worldwide, is for sale and whose former top managers are facing criminal charges, has left the United States and moved to Abu Dhabi, according to court documents.
Mr. Prince, a former member of the Navy Seals and an heir to a Michigan auto parts fortune, left the country after a series of civil lawsuits, criminal charges and Congressional investigations singled out Blackwater or its former executives and other personnel. His company, now called Xe Services, has collected hundreds of millions of dollars from the United States government since 2001.
Current and former colleagues said Mr. Prince hoped to focus on security work from governments in Africa and the Middle East. They also said he was bitter about the legal scrutiny and negative publicity his company had received.
“He needs a break from America,” said one colleague, speaking only on the condition of anonymity about Mr. Prince’s long-rumored move.
I bet he needs a break. Having all that blood on your hands must be exhausting. Hopefully, Little Erik will be able to get his life back. Hey! Maybe he can hang out with Tony Hayward, and they can get their lives back together!
Mr. Prince does not face any criminal charges, but five former top company executives have been indicted on federal weapons, conspiracy and obstruction charges. Two guards who worked for a Blackwater-affiliated company face murder charges from a 2009 shooting in Afghanistan, and the Justice Department is trying to revive its prosecution of five former Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.
In documents filed last week in a civil lawsuit brought by former Blackwater employees accusing Mr. Prince of defrauding the government, Mr. Prince sought to avoid giving a deposition by stating that he had moved to Abu Dhabi in time for his children to enter school there Aug. 15. In the documents filed in federal court in Virginia, Mr. Prince’s lawyers describe Abu Dhabi as Mr. Prince’s place of residence.
Mr. Prince made a name for himself during the height of the war in Iraq, when Blackwater became the most recognizable brand name in the booming field of private security contracting. The company, which Mr. Prince founded in 1997, expanded rapidly, winning a series of contracts with the State Department, the C.I.A. and the Defense Department.
Blackwater’s biggest public crisis came in September 2007, when its guards on a convoy in Nisour Square in Baghdad opened fire with machine guns, grenade launchers and other weapons, killing 17 Iraqi civilians. Five guards were indicted in the United States on manslaughter charges, but the charges were dismissed late last year by a federal judge. The Justice Department is appealing that ruling.
From The New York Times (August 20th):
WASHINGTON — The private security company formerly called Blackwater Worldwide, long plagued by accusations of impropriety, has reached an agreement with the State Department for the company to pay $42 million in fines for hundreds of violations of United States export control regulations.
The violations included illegal weapons exports to Afghanistan, making unauthorized proposals to train troops in south Sudan and providing sniper training for Taiwanese police officers, according to company and government officials familiar with the deal.
The settlement, which has not yet been publicly announced, follows lengthy talks between Blackwater, now called Xe Services, and the State Department that dealt with the violations as an administrative matter, allowing the firm to avoid criminal charges.
The settlement with the State Department does not resolve other legal troubles still facing Blackwater and its former executives and other personnel. Those include the indictments of five former executives, including Blackwater’s former president, on weapons and obstruction charges; a federal investigation into evidence that Blackwater officials sought to bribe Iraqi government officials; and the arrest of two former Blackwater guards on federal murder charges stemming from the killing of two Afghans last year.
But by paying fines rather than facing criminal charges on the export violations, Blackwater will be able to continue to obtain government contracts.
Despite the fines and investigations that have plagued Blackwater, the firm has continued to win contracts from the State Department and the C.I.A.
In June, the State Department awarded Blackwater a $120 million contract to provide security at its regional offices in Afghanistan, while the C.I.A. renewed the firm’s $100 million security contract for its station in Kabul. At the time, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, defended the decision, saying that the company had offered the lowest bid and had “cleaned up its act.”