Blackwater boss resurfaces with $10bn business plan for war in Afghanistan

Erik Prince, founder of the private security company Blackwater, has resurfaced as President Donald Trump mulls over what to do about the Afghanistan conflict, which consumes billions of taxpayer dollars. (Reuters)
Updated 13 August 2017
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Blackwater boss resurfaces with $10bn business plan for war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: Nearly 16 years after US forces entered Afghanistan, a shadowy figure from the past is making the rounds in Washington with a plan to end America’s longest war.
Erik Prince, founder of the private security company Blackwater, has resurfaced as President Donald Trump mulls over what to do about a conflict that bedeviled his two predecessors in the White House.
Prince’s plan for Afghanistan would start with the naming of an all-powerful American “viceroy” who would report to the president and play a role like that of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in post-World War II Japan.
American troops, aside from a handful of special forces, would be replaced by a private army of around 5,500 contractors who would train Afghan soldiers and join them in the fight against the Taliban. They would be backed by a 90-aircraft private air force. And all at a cost of less than $10 billion a year, as opposed to the $45 billion the US is expected to spend in 2017 on its military presence in Afghanistan.
Prince, a 48-year-old former US Navy SEAL, has kept a low profile since selling Blackwater in 2010 — three years after some of his employees hired to protect US diplomats killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad and wounded another 17.
He first outlined his Afghan proposal in an article for The Wall Street Journal in May. Since then, Prince, who currently heads Frontier Services Group, a Hong Kong-based security company, has met with US officials here and made television appearances promoting his plan.
Prince, whose sister Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary, says he has received a sympathetic hearing from the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and some members of the Congress but a chilly reception from the Pentagon.
After taking office in January, Trump ordered a strategic review of the situation in Afghanistan, where some 8,400 US soldiers and 5,000 NATO troops are assisting the Afghan security forces in battling an emboldened Taliban.
Trump said Thursday that he was “very close” to revealing his decision on how to proceed in the war-torn nation, where 2,000 US troops have died since Americans were first deployed there in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“We’re getting very close. It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess, and we’re going to make it a lot less messy,” said Trump, whose frustration with the stalemate in Afghanistan reportedly led him last month to suggest firing the US commander there, Gen. John Nicholson.
Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan and the retired general is said to be leaning toward boosting US forces there by about 4,000 troops.
Prince, in an interview with CNN, said he has not met with Trump to discuss his plan and acknowledged that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, like Mattis, a former general, was not keen on the proposal. “I would say Gen. McMaster does not like this idea because he is a three-star conventional army general and he is wedded to the idea that the US Army is going to solve this,” Prince said.
McMaster and Mattis are not the only skeptics when it comes to Prince’s plan. “It’s something that would come from a bad soldier of fortune novel,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Washington Post. “I trust our generals. I don’t trust contractors to make our national security policy decisions.”
Sean McFate, a former military contractor in Africa and author of a book about the private security industry, “The Modern Mercenary,” said he considers Prince’s proposal to be “supremely dangerous and foolish.”
“There’s been no discussion about oversight, regulation, safety, accountability, control,” McFate told AFP.
He said private contractors in Afghanistan would inevitably be involved in a horrific event like the September 2007 killing of Iraqi civilians by the Blackwater contractors in Baghdad.
“The first time there’s a massacre we’re going to have to go in there with the Marine Corps and rescue them,” he said.
“Ultimately you get what you pay for,” McFate said. “It’s like having cheap contractors fix your house. At the end of the day it takes twice as long and is four times as expensive.”
Stephen Biddle, a political science professor at George Washington University, said he considered Prince’s plan “pretty dreadful” but is not surprised it is getting a hearing in a White House looking for a new approach.
“The president isn’t very happy with the options that he’s got and is predisposed to like things that are new,” Biddle told AFP. “And Republicans in general tend to like privatization.”
“But not all new ideas are good ideas,” Biddle said.


Russian court jails US investor pending fraud trial

Updated 16 February 2019
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Russian court jails US investor pending fraud trial

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Saturday jailed the US founder of a major investment firm for two months over fraud charges he says were fabricated for use in a shareholder battle.
Michael Calvey, founder of the multi-billion-dollar investment fund Baring Vostok Capital Partners (BVCP), was placed under arrest until April 13 as he and five others await trial on charges they embezzled 2.5 billion rubles ($37.7 million).
Authorities detained four BVCP employees on Friday, including French national Phillipe Delpal.
Two other suspects include a former fund employee and someone at another firm mentioned in the probe. All six are now under pre-trial arrest.
In a statement Saturday, Baring Vostok said the claims made against its employees “have no merit.”
The case has already drawn comparisons to other high-profile probes against foreign investors in Russia, notably one against Bill Browder and the Hermitage Capital fund.
Ironically, it comes as Russia hosts a high-profile investment forum in its Black Sea city Sochi.
Calvey says he is innocent and argued in court that the probe is a bid to exert pressure on him amid a shareholder conflict within Vostochniy Bank, which he is trying to resolve in a London arbitration court.
The charges against him are intended to “pressure Baring Vostok to drop its arbitration claims in London or to obstruct the new share emission of Vostochniy Bank,” Calvey alleged according to a statement by Baring Vostok on Saturday.
Investigators say that a firm controlled by Calvey in 2017 owed 2.5 billion rubles to Vostochniy bank and paid the debt with a 59.9 percent stake in the Luxembourg company International Financial Technology Group (IFTG), which was valued at three billion rubles.
The investigators claim that IFTG’s real value was only 600,000 rubles.
The fraud claim against Calvey was filed with the FSB security service this month by Sherzod Yusupov, a minority shareholder in Vostochniy Bank, Russian agencies reported.
Baring Vostok controls more than 52 percent of Vostochniy Bank, while 32 percent is owned by Artyom Avetisyan, Russian reports said.
Calvey said in court that he and Avetisyan are tangled in a shareholder dispute, and that by filing the claim Yusupov was in fact acting on Avetisyan’s behalf.
BVCP is a veteran investor in Russia, with current and past projects that include the Internet company Yandex, online retailer Ozon.ru, several drugstore and food store chains, and Russia’s leading online classifieds service Avito.
Some Russian officials have supported Calvey, with Rosnano board chairman Anatoly Chubais calling him “one of the most respected investors” whose efforts “attracted about four billion dollars in foreign direct investment to Russia.”