Former Navy SEAL officer Erik Prince attempted to sell modified crop duster aircraft to Azerbaijan's military, likely violating the U.S. law, The Intercept reports.
Prince is best known for founding the government services and security company Blackwater USA, now known as Academi.
As a private attorney in 2016, FBI Director Chris Wray supervised a team of lawyers that informed the Justice Department that the Blackwater founder had likely violated U.S. law.
Wray and Robert Hur, now a senior Justice Department official, were both partners at the powerhouse law firm King & Spalding in 2015 when officials at Prince’s Hong Kong-based logistics company, Frontier Services Group, discovered suspicious activity by Prince over the proposed sale of the planes.
FSG retained King & Spalding to conduct a review of the company’s legal exposure to violations of U.S. law on weapons sales and the export of defense services to foreign governments and militaries. The attorneys concluded that Prince could potentially be charged with brokering defense articles without a license, according to a copy of the review obtained by The Intercept. The FSG-hired lawyers briefed the Obama Justice Department’s National Security Division in February 2016 on Prince’s activities and, a month later, FSG’s CEO notified the State Department that FSG intended to voluntarily report its possible violations of U.S. defense export laws.
“The evidence strongly suggests that Mr. Prince was offering a foreign defense article (i.e., an attack aircraft) for sale to the Azerbaijan MOD,” according to the internal investigation.
The 2015 internal report by FSG’s lawyers from King & Spalding concluded that “based on the information available, it appears likely that Prince engaged in ‘brokering activities,’” without the necessary approval from the U.S. government in connection with the attempted sale of the secretly modified paramilitary aircraft - a Thrush 510G - to Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense.
Violations of International Traffic in Arms Regulations can trigger civil penalties of up to half a million dollars or criminal penalties of up to 20 years in prison, depending on the specific nature of the violations.
A current FSG spokesperson, responding on behalf of the company and Prince, said, “Any assertion that FSG or Mr. Prince violated any laws in this matter is categorically false.”