Prince could face charges stemming from his testimony to Congress about Seychelles meeting with Putin adviser and potential arms-trafficking violations
The Justice Department is in the late stages of deciding whether to charge businessman and Trump ally Erik Prince in an investigation into whether he lied to Congress in its Russia probe and violated U.S. export laws in his business dealings overseas, according to people familiar with the matter.
The investigation gathered steam in recent months with the cooperation of several witnesses, the people said. Potential charges against Mr. Prince, the founder of the defense contractor formerly known as Blackwater, include making false statements to Congress and violating the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, the people said.
Investigators have been examining Mr. Prince’s 2017 testimony to Congress about his meeting with an adviser to Russia President Vladimir Putin, the people said. The episode was the subject of a criminal referral last April by the House Intelligence Committee, after special counsel Robert Mueller’s 2019 report appeared to contradict Mr. Prince’s testimony and described a different motivation for the trip than Mr. Prince had described to Congress.
The Justice Department told the committee in a Feb. 4 letter it would “refer” the request for an investigation “to the proper investigative agency”—though it was already looking at the matter, the people said.
The inquiry is also looking at Mr. Prince’s attempts to supply aircraft outfitted with weaponry to other countries. He made a pitch to the United Arab Emirates for such a contract in 2017, according to people familiar with the matter. It couldn’t be determined whether the pitch was successful.
A representative from the U.A.E. embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment. The FBI is examining whether Mr. Prince obtained the appropriate export licenses in that business, the people said.
An attorney for Mr. Prince, Matthew Schwartz, said: “There is nothing new here,” adding that Mr. Prince had “cooperated completely” in Mr. Mueller’s investigation. “Erik Prince’s House testimony has been public for more than a year,” Mr. Schwartz added.
After Mr. Trump’s 2016 election, Mr. Prince met in the Seychelles with Kirill Dmitriev, who runs Russia’s sovereign-wealth fund and has described himself as a close adviser to Mr. Putin.
Speaking to lawmakers in November 2017, Mr. Prince described the meeting as a brief, unplanned encounter at a hotel bar while he was in the Indian Ocean archipelago on other business.
Mr. Prince said then that he went to the Seychelles to meet with potential customers from the U.A.E. “After the meeting, they mentioned a guy I should meet who was also in town to see them, a Kirill Dmitriev from Russia, who ran some sort of hedge fund,” Mr. Prince said at the time.
But Mr. Mueller’s team in its report described the episode unfolding differently.
Mr. Nader suggested that, in light of Mr. Prince’s relationship with transition team officials, the two could meet, the report said. Mr. Prince didn’t have a formal role with the Trump campaign but talked to campaign chairman Steve Bannon and sent him unsolicited policy papers, according to his congressional testimony.
Mr. Prince is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy Devos.
Mr. Nader also faces a separate, unresolved federal criminal case that accuses him of conspiring to provide more than $3.5 million in illegal campaign contributions to political entities supporting Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.
Mr. Prince has a long history in the Middle East and did business with the United Arab Emirates before 2011, which he described in his congressional testimony as consulting on “how to make the country safer.”
One of Mr. Prince’s previous companies, Academi LLC, previously called Blackwater Worldwide, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in 2012 to resolve criminal charges that it violated export laws by not obtaining appropriate licenses for services that included providing ammunition and body armor to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as military training to Canada. The firm had also submitted a proposal to provide security services to Sudan for which it didn’t get an export license, which was required in part because the proposal included technical data related to the intended work.
The company was renamed after Blackwater security guards were involved in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that resulted in the death of more than a dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians. One of the guards, Nicholas Slatten, was sentenced to life in prison last year after he was convicted of murdering the driver of a stopped car.
Mr. Prince has faced questions before about his work brokering the sale of aircraft outfitted with military capabilities. In 2015, the law firm King & Spalding conducted an investigation for security firm Frontier Services Group, where Mr. Prince was chairman of the board, and prepared a report, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It found Mr. Prince might have tried to broker such a sale without the appropriate license.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray supervised the team of attorneys that made the finding, which was first reported by news website The Intercept in 2018.
Mueller Reportedly Has Evidence Blackwater Founder Tried to Set Up a Trump-Putin Back Channel
Last April, the Washington Post reported that Blackwater founder Erik Prince had a secret meeting with a Russian close to Vladimir Putin to establish back channel communications between the Kremlin and then-President-elect Donald Trump in advance of the inauguration. Prince denied the allegations, but now, it sounds like special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence.
.. A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries
.. Prince, an outspoken Trump supporter whose sister, Betsy DeVos, serves as Trump’s education secretary, previously told the House Intelligence Committee that the meeting in the Seychelles with Kirill Dmitriev, who oversees a wealth fund controlled by the Russian government, was not planned and that he had been discussing business possibilities at a hotel with United Arab Emirates officials. The Washington Post reported last year that the secret meeting had been arranged by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and his brother, shortly after Zayed visited the United States, to “explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria.”