Sunday, January 31, 2010

U.S. Justice Department opens investigation of alleged bribery in Iraq

From Washington comes word that the U.S. Justice Department is investigating allegations that Blackwater Worldwide, the largest outside contractor for the military in Iraq, paid officials of the government in Baghdad to allow the company to keep operating there. The department's fraud section opened the investigation late last year, according to the New York Times. The Iraqi government wanted Blackwater, since renamed Xe Services, expelled from the country following the shooting deaths of more than a dozen civilians in a Baghdad intersection in 2007. Company guards were protecting a diplomatic convoy when they opened fire in Nisour Square, apparently believing they were under attack. The shooting outraged the Iraqi public and led the government to order company employees out of the country. The last reportedly left in May. Five of six former guards allegedly involved in the incident were charged with manslaughter and other charges, but the case against them was dismissed in December out of concern that their rights had been violated. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the government would appeal that dismissal. A sixth guard pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his testimony. The existence of the bribery investigation was confirmed by three current and former U.S. officials, the newspaper said. The investigation appears to have started after a Times report that Blackwater officials had authorized $1 million in payments to Iraq officials to retain their support in the post-Nisour Square incident environment. If true, such payments would violate federal law barring U.S. companies from bribing officials of other countries. Investigators are working with the U.S. State Department and with federal prosecutors in North Carolina, where a grand jury has been reviewing the Blackwater contracts, the Times said.

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