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Blackwater payoff plan alleged

Wed., Nov. 11, 2009

Ex-staff say company wanted to defuse Iraqi anger

Former top executives at Blackwater Worldwide say the U.S. security contractor sent about $1 million to its Iraq office with the intention of paying off officials in the country who were angry about the fatal shootings of 17 civilians by Blackwater employees, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Four former executives described the plan under the condition of anonymity, the newspaper said.

Iraqis had long complained about ground operations by the North Carolina-based company, now known as Xe Corp. Then the shooting by Blackwater guards in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square in September 2007 left 17 civilians dead, further strained relations between Baghdad and Washington and led U.S. prosecutors to bring charges against the Blackwater contractors involved.

The State Department has since turned to DynCorp and another private security firm, Triple Canopy, to handle diplomatic protective services in the country. But Xe continues to provide security for diplomats in other nations, most notably in Afghanistan.

The former executives told the Times that the payments were approved by the company’s then-president, Gary Jackson. They did not know if he came up with the idea.

It’s also not clear whether the payments were actually delivered, or which Iraqi officials were intended to receive them. Any payments would have been illegal under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribes to foreign officials. The company has paid legitimate compensation to several victims of the shootings, the Times reported.

Two of the former executives said they were directly involved in discussions about paying Iraqi officials, and the other two said they were told about the discussions by others at Blackwater.

Jackson, who resigned as president of Blackwater early this year, criticized the newspaper when reached by phone and said, “I don’t care what you write.”

Xe spokesman Mark Corallo said the company disputes “these baseless allegations” and had no comment on former employees.

The plan to pay Iraqi officials caused a rift within the company, the former executives said.

Five Blackwater guards involved in the Nisoor Square shooting are scheduled to face trial on federal manslaughter charges in February in Washington. A sixth guard pleaded guilty in December. Iraqi victims are also suing the company and its founder, Erik Prince.

A wide-ranging federal grand jury investigation is being conducted on Xe’s operations. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh, N.C., declined to comment to the Times on the probe and did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday evening by the Associated Press.

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