x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Blackwater founder questioned in Abu Dhabi

Erik Prince, who faces a civil lawsuit by two former employees of his notorious private security company, says he moved to Abu Dhabi for "business climate".

ABU DHABI // Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater private security firm, was questioned on Monday in Abu Dhabi, where he now lives, as part of a civil lawsuit by former employees of his company. Susan Burke, a lawyer representing two whistle-blowers, said Mr Prince had become a UAE resident on August 12. The deposition on Monday was taken in connection with a civil lawsuit. A couple formerly employed by Blackwater are suing Mr Prince and his companies under the False Claims Act in the US.

"It was only because he relocated here ? that I had to come here to take the deposition," Ms Burke said. Mr Prince attended the hearing with his lawyer, a court reporter and a videographer. Mr Prince, who had been rumoured for some time to have moved to the UAE, is a former US Navy SEAL who established the security firm Blackwater Worldwide, now called Xe Services. The company was the target of several lawsuits and investigations by the US Congress, the most controversial of which followed a shoot-out in September 2007 in which Blackwater guards opened fire in Nisour Square in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqi civilians.

Five guards were indicted on manslaughter charges that were dismissed by a federal judge last year. The decision is currently being appealed by the Justice Department. The False Claims Act allows individuals to sue government contractors on behalf of the US government for acts of fraud. Such whistle-blowers are usually granted a percentage of any eventual damages awarded by courts. Xe Services reached a US$42 million (Dh154.2m) settlement with the State Department for violations of export controls, the New York Times reported on Friday.

Last night Mr Prince said he had moved to Abu Dhabi because of its "great proximity to potential opportunities across the entire Middle East, and great logistics". He added: "There are good schools here, a church where we can worship, my kids can go to the malls and my girls don't need to change the way they dress. "I'm trying AD because it feels a lot like Singapore. Rule of law, a friendly business climate, low to no taxes, free trade and no out of control trial lawyers or labour unions. It's pro-business and opportunity."