Private security contractor Erik Prince, a close ally of former US President Donald Trump, violated a United Nations arms embargo on Libya, UN investigators have found in a report detailed by US media.
The confidential report to the Security Council, obtained by The New York Times and The Washington Post, and partly seen by Al Jazeera, said on Friday that Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has fought to overthrow the UN-recognised Libyan government, in 2019.
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The $80m operation included plans to form a hit squad to track and kill Libyan commanders opposed to Haftar – including some who were also European Union citizens, The New York Times said.
Matthew Schwartz, a lawyer for Prince, denied the accusations.
“Mr. Prince had no involvement in any alleged military operation in Libya in 2019, or at any other time,” Schwartz said in a statement. “He did not provide weapons, personnel, or military equipment to anyone in Libya.”
Prince, a former Navy SEAL and brother of Trump’s education secretary Betsy Devos, drew infamy as the head of the Blackwater private security firm, whose contractors were accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
Four who were convicted were pardoned by Trump last year.
The accusation exposes Prince to possible UN sanctions, including a travel ban, the Times said.
Prince did not cooperate with the UN inquiry and his lawyer declined to comment to The New York Times, it added.
Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from Washington, DC, said the report’s findings go deeper than just Prince’s actions.
“The UN report raises the question not only of whether or not a close associate of the [former] president violated an international arms embargo, but also of whether or not the president himself was complicit in defying stated US policy,” she said.
Anas el-Gomati, director of Libyan think tank Sadeq Institute, told Al Jazeera that using private military contractors can allow leaders to deny involvement in conflicts where they cannot be seen to be complicit for diplomatic or legal reasons.
“[In these situations] people like Erik Prince’s currency goes right up. And the real aspect here, as we’ve seen with Russia and the [private military firm] Wagner Group – and how they’ve been deployed in several theatres including Libya – is that they offer a beautiful, eerie, and in fact disastrous kind of deniability to any government,” he said.
“You can outright refuse that you have any knowledge of what is going on,” he said.
El-Gomati said the report raised two important questions.
“To what degree did Trump help facilitate this war alongside Erik Prince? And more importantly, whether or not Erik Prince was coordinating with Russian Wagner Group mercenaries in Libya and has helped them establish a foothold in the way he helped the United Arab Emirates establish a foothold in Libya,” he said.
Oil-rich Libya has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed uprising led to the toppling and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The country has in recent years been split between a Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, backed by Turkey, and an eastern-based administration, whose forces are led by Haftar and backed by Russia, the UAE, and Egypt, among others.
Then-President Trump in 2019 praised Haftar – who has faced accusations of war crimes – for his role in “fighting terrorism” in Libya.
A new interim executive for the country was chosen on February 5 by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Switzerland, comprising 75 participants selected by the UN to represent a broad cross-section of society.
Haftar has pledged his support for the initiative.