Erik Prince, Trump Ally, Denies Position in Libya Mercenary Operation

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Responding to accusations by United Nations investigators that he violated a world arms embargo, Erik Prince, the Blackwater Worldwide founder and distinguished supporter of Donald J. Trump, denied taking part in any position in an $80 million mercenary operation in Libya in 2019. And he insisted that key findings of the U.N. investigation had been totally fallacious.

“Erik Prince didn’t breach any arms embargo and had nothing to do with sending plane, drones, arms or folks to Libya — interval,” he mentioned in an interview with The New York Instances.

A confidential report submitted Thursday to the U.N. Safety Council and obtained by The Instances accused Mr. Prince of breaching the decade-old arms embargo on Libya by collaborating in an ill-fated mercenary operation in 2019 that sought to help a robust Libyan commander in his drive to overthrow Libya’s internationally backed authorities.

Mr. Prince, who got here beneath worldwide scrutiny after his Blackwater contractors massacred 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007, has been a distinguished supporter of Mr. Trump in recent times. His sister, Betsy DeVos, was Mr. Trump’s training secretary.

Talking by telephone, Mr. Prince challenged key assertions within the U.N. report, lashed out at critics and performed down his hyperlinks to the previous president. He mentioned he met Mr. Trump simply as soon as as president, at a Veterans Day occasion, and by no means mentioned Libya or every other coverage matter with him.

“I used to be not overseas coverage adviser for the president,” he added, apparently in reference to information media articles utilizing that description. “So cease characterizing me as that. It’s not true.”

Mr. Prince and his lawyer acknowledged they’d not seen the U.N. report, or the numerous particular allegations listed in it, which incorporates dozens of pages of PowerPoint shows, contracts, financial institution transfers, textual content messages and different proof. And Mr. Prince didn’t provide any onerous proof to counter these allegations.

Gregg Smith, who labored with Mr. Prince between 2014 and 2016 and is cited within the report, mentioned the mercenary operation described by investigators in Libya had many similarities to a venture Mr. Prince headed in South Sudan in 2014.

“It’s the identical folks and the identical plane,” Mr. Smith mentioned.

Mr. Prince’s broad denials improve the stakes over the confidential report, which is at the moment earlier than the Safety Council and is prone to be made public subsequent month. The report opens the likelihood that Mr. Prince may very well be punished with an asset freeze and a journey ban, though such sanctions are hardly ever imposed by the United Nations.

A central accusation of the report is that Mr. Prince pitched the $80 million mercenary scheme to the Libyan militia commander Khalifa Hifter throughout a gathering in Cairo in April 2019, solely days after Mr. Hifter launched a sweeping army drive to grab Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

Mr. Prince insisted that was not possible. “I by no means met Common Hifter,” he mentioned. “Was not in Egypt in 2019. By no means even spoken to the person.”

The report mentioned the assembly coincided with an abrupt change within the Trump administration’s strategy to Libya.

A day after the assembly described within the report, on April 15, Mr. Trump made a telephone name to Mr. Hifter and publicly acknowledged his “important position in combating terrorism and securing Libya’s oil assets,” the White Home mentioned in an announcement on the time.

4 days later, Mr. Trump shocked his aides by brazenly endorsing Mr. Hifter’s advance on Tripoli, in what amounted to a drastic reversal in American coverage towards Libya. Earlier than that, the USA supported the federal government that Mr. Hifter was attempting to topple.

Mr. Prince says he tried to affect the president solely via newspaper articles, the place in 2017 in The Monetary Instances he proposed a personal border drive to stem unlawful migration from Libya and in The Wall Avenue Journal recommended a drive of personal contractors to battle in Afghanistan. “I want he had listened,” Mr. Prince mentioned. “I want he had listened to the recommendation I gave him within the articles.”

Mr. Prince additionally mentioned he had by no means mentioned Libya with two different figures near Mr. Trump: Jared Kushner, the previous president’s son-in-law and adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the previous secretary of state.

The mercenary operation linked to Mr. Prince by the U.N. report is simply the newest episode to spotlight the position of overseas forces within the sprawling, chaotic struggle that engulfed Libya after its longtime dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, was ousted through the Arab Spring in 2011.

The United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Russia, Egypt and different international locations have taken sides within the wrestle, sending cash, fighters and highly effective weapons in looking for to affect the way forward for the oil-rich North African nation.

Mr. Hifter, who holds sway over most of jap Libya, might be the nation’s strongest commander. He confronted scathing worldwide criticism in April 2019 when he started his marketing campaign to seize Tripoli with backing from the Emirates and, later, from Russian mercenaries.

U.N. investigators say {that a} crew of 20 British, Australian, South African and American mercenaries had been secretly deployed to Libya in June 2019 as a part of the $80 million scheme to assist Mr. Hifter, then in his marketing campaign to seize Tripoli.

The mercenaries arrived with plane and army boats smuggled from South Africa and Europe, and supplied to kind a success squad to find and assassinate Mr. Hifter’s major enemy commander, the report mentioned.

However the operation hit an impediment when Jordan refused to promote American-made Cobra helicopter gunships to the mercenaries, then it turned to catastrophe when a dispute with Mr. Hifter compelled the mercenaries to flee Libya by boat throughout the Mediterranean.

At the moment, Mr. Prince says, he was within the mountains of Wyoming and in a while a street journey to Alaska and Canada together with his son.

“It’s onerous to run a mercenary operation from the backcountry of northern Yukon Territory,” he mentioned.

The U.N. report says that Mr. Prince transferred three of his personal airplanes to Libya for the usage of Mr. Hifter’s struggle marketing campaign.

Investigators say a paper path led them from Prince-controlled corporations in Bermuda, Bulgaria and United States that owned the airplanes to the Libyan battlefield.

Mr. Prince stumbled in his rationalization of his corporations. Mr. Prince’s lawyer contradicted him when Mr. Prince mentioned he was the proprietor of Bridgeporth, a British survey firm the U.N. investigators mentioned was used to supply cowl for Mr. Prince’s army ventures.

He doesn’t know or care who finally purchased the planes that ended up in Libya, he mentioned.

And he mentioned he refused to cooperate with the United Nations investigators — a gaggle of six folks educated about illicit arms and monetary transfers formally generally known as the Panel of Specialists — as a result of he believed they had been intent on smearing him. “There’s no due course of,” he mentioned. “It’s a hatchet job.”

A Western official mentioned that U.N. investigators had already formally really helpful sanctions towards a buddy and former enterprise accomplice of Mr. Prince for his half within the mercenary scheme.

Now Mr. Prince, going through a battle for his status, at least, on the United Nations, mentioned he was a sufferer of a shadowy and secretive picture that he himself has lengthy cultivated.

“My title has turn out to be click on bait for individuals who prefer to weave conspiracy theories collectively,” Mr. Prince mentioned. “And in the event that they throw my title in, it at all times attracts consideration. And it’s fairly rattling sickening.”

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