US Blackwater bribes to silence Iraq's criticism on civilian killings

Blackwater bribed about one million dollars to Iraqi officials to "silence their criticism" after company guards killed 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

US Blackwater bribes to silence Iraq's criticism on civilian killings

Executives at US security firm Blackwater bribed about one million dollars to Iraqi officials to "silence their criticism" after company guards killed 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007, the New York Times has said.

Citing interviews with four unnamed former Blackwater executives, the Times said the company's president at the time, Gary Jackson, approved the bribes.

Money was sent from neighboring Jordan to their top company manager in Baghdad.

Four former executives said in interviews that Blackwater approved the payments in December 2007 but they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of potential recipients, the Times reported.

Two of the former executives told the Times they took part in talks about the payments. The two others said they were told by several Blackwater officials about the discussions.

The four officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they left the company because they were troubled by a pattern of questionable conduct by Blackwater, the paper reported.

An Iraqi investigation found that 17 civilians died and 20 were wounded when Blackwater guards opened fire with automatic weapons while escorting an American diplomatic convoy through the square.

US prosecutors say 14 civilians were killed in the incident. Five former Blackwater guards pleaded not guilty at a federal court in Washington in January to manslaughter charges.

Blackwater chairman and founder Erik Prince did not dispute the existence of a bribery plan when he was confronted by Blackwater's vice chairman at the time, Cofer Black, according to an executive familiar with their discussions on the matter, the Times said.

A spokeswoman for Blackwater, which renamed itself Xe after the Iraq government banned it, dismissed allegations of a bribery plot as "baseless."

To replace Blackwater, the US State Department on March 31 awarded Virginia-based Triple Canopy a contract reportedly worth nearly a billion dollars to take over protection of US government personnel in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki branded the incident a "massacre" and complained when the U.S. State Department subsequently renewed Blackwater's contract.

Despite this, the U.S. government said in September it had asked the company to continue providing security services to U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

Xe Services, the former Blackwater, had been notified in January that its State Department contract in Iraq would not be renewed.

Privately held Blackwater earned more than $600 million in revenues last year -- about a third of that from its State Department contract to protect diplomats in war zones.


Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 11 Kasım 2009, 13:00
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