Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Prince of the Emirates

Earlier reports have stated that the notorious Erik Prince moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates after five of Blackwater's executives were indicted last April on conspiracy charges involving weapons violations. Abu Dhabi is one of seven emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE)--a federation on the Southeast Arabian Peninsula, which was created in 1971. Its close neighbor, the emirate of Dubai, boasts the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa, more than twice the height of the Empire State Building.

Prince, at the time of his relocation to UAE last August, was being threatened with civil litigation from Iraqi victims killed or wounded by Blackwater personnel in Baghdad. He renamed Blackwater to Xe Services so as to keep the Afghan contracts, then put his stock and other assets owned by Xe (including the 7,000-acre training compound it operates at its headquarters in Moyock, N.C.) up for sale in June. He abandoned the U.S. for his new home, which, coincidentally, has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

Abu Dhabi, which has been called the world's richest city, and nearby Dubai, referred to as a city of gold, are central to the region's oil and financial empire. While America pulls increasingly more of its troops out of Iraq, the U.S. State Department depends more on private companies (which some critics refer to as mercenaries) for providing security to the officials still located there. One report in October also indicated there are 16,000 mercenaries on contract to the U.S. Defense Department in Afghanistan. So Prince has plenty of competition there, but there is also lots of demand for what he does.

His new place of residence was disclosed as a result of a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Blackwater/Xe in which a deposition of Prince was ordered by the court and taken in Abu Dhabi by attorney Susan Burke. Burke's husband, also a lawyer, reported on his blog:
Prince sought to avoid giving a deposition in this case by claiming that he needed to be in Abu Dhabi in time for his children to begin school there on August 15. It is unclear what English-speaking school in the country begins any time before September. But, calling his bluff, Susan offered to travel herself to Abu Dhabi to take the deposition there, and the judge granted the order. As the old expression goes, if you can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, you bring the mountain to Mohammed.
Jeremy Scahill of The Nation, a month after that deposition, wrote:
Soon thereafter, Prince's lawyers declared the entirety of the transcript of Prince's deposition to be confidential material and asserted that it should be sealed. Prince's attorneys filed papers in the case asking the judge to allow Prince and his lawyers to classify any information or documents Prince provides or any information or documents Burke obtains from Prince or Blackwater as "confidential" and therefore barred from public dissemination. Prince's lawyers have also asked that all documents they provide in the case be destroyed or returned within 120 days of the conclusion of the case. Prince's lawyers have alleged that Burke intends to use the media to embarrass Prince and to litigate her case outside of court and have asked for a "gag order" against her and the other attorneys litigating the case. Burke, in her court filing, points out that the actions of Prince and his companies have generated tremendous publicity and attention. Burke writes:
Defendant Prince and his companies create the media stir by their own actions. Indeed, their misconduct has led to a series of indictments, charging letters from the State Department, and criminal trials. Indeed, Defendant Prince seeks publicity that serves his own ends. He voluntarily participated in a Vanity Fair interview, pressing his view that anyone who criticizes his misconduct must have a "political agenda." Defendant Prince voluntarily cooperated with a book about his life, called Master of War. In the book, he voluntarily revealed, among other things, that he fathered a child out of wedlock and cheated on his wife who was dying of cancer.
On September 22, Burke filed a motion opposing the gag order and what she sees as Prince's attempt to "seal everything." In her motion, Burke reveals that she provided the US State Department with a transcript of the deposition for review of potentially classified material. A State Department contracting official wrote, "As contracting officer I do not require any redactions to the subject transcript of the Erk Prince deposition before it is made publicly available." In arguing against a gag order, Burke writes that media coverage results in witnesses coming forward who will "be helpful in showing the jury that [her clients'] claims of widespread fraud and misconduct have merit." To support her argument, Burke cited Howard Lowry, whom she says contacted her after seeing media reports on Prince and Blackwater.
 Lowry, a Texas businessman involved in international trade and development, alleged in a September 10 deposition, which was part of a 2008 lawsuit, that he was hired to procure such necessary materials for the company's employees as steroids, AK-47s and ammunition on the black market. This lawsuit, according to Scahill, stated that "Blackwater tried to bill the US government for a prostitute for its men in Afghanistan and for strippers in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina."

Lowry was described in Scahill's article as a friend of one of the Blackwater employees, Jerry Zovko, who was hanged from a bridge in Fallujah in 2004, who Lowry stated in his deposition had instructed him of the importance of steroids to the Blackwater men, as well as armor and weapons needed because Blackwater "was not adequately arming its personnel."

After reading Lowry's deposition, Scahill wrote in The Nation:
Lowry also says that he had several meetings with Erik Prince where Prince asked him for assistance in winning contracts with the Iraqi government for an off-shore company Prince owns called Greystone. It is registered in Barbados. Lowry, who says he knew the Iraqi Interior and Defense Ministers "very well," claims Prince wanted to offer the Iraqi government Greystone's training and security services. Lowry says that Prince stated "very clearly" to him that Greystone was "set up to deflect any liability, future liability, that he may have with respect to any weapons sales or any bodily harm or anything else, contract issues with both the US and the Iraqi governments." Lowry claims the Iraqis were aware of Greystone's connection to Blackwater and "detested" the companies.
The UAE address for Greystone, Ltd. is Airport Road next to the International School of Choueifat in Abu Dhabi, one possibility of where Prince's children may be schooled. The school began in Lebanon, where, it may be recalled, Erik Prince's new endeavor, Saracen International was registered. Possibly only another coincidence.

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