Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of the mercenary group Blackwater and brother of Secretary orf Education Betsy DeVos, secretly met with an associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles, theWashington Post reports. Details of the meeting were also confirmed by NBC.
The meeting, which allegedly took place abouta week before President Donald Trumps inauguration in January, was arranged by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates.
According to the Post, UAE officials were hoping to persuade Russia to curtail its relationship with Iran in exchange for concessions on U.S. sanctions. Russia and Iran are diplomatic allies, while the UAE and Iran are regional rivals.
Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian, the article states.
Prince is known as the founder of a notorious military contractor whose employees were convicted of killing dozens of civilians during the Iraq war. The mercenary company has since rebranded several times.
Prince parted ways with Blackwater and currently runs Frontier Services Group, a new private contractor active in China. He has been described as an avid Trump supporter and he donated $250,000 to the Republicans campaign. The Post reports, however, that his involvement goes much further and that he has been involved in actively facilitating backchannel talks.
The newspaper has exposed several Trump campaign ties to Russia and meetings between campaign associates and foreign officialsall of which have been brought under increased scrutiny by two ongoing congressional investigations.
As part of its own investigation into the Russian election interference, the FBI allegedly explored the Seychelles meeting.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the Post that the administration was not aware of any meetings, and Erik Prince had no role in the transition. A spokesman for Prince relayed that the meeting did take place, but that it nothing to do with Donald Trump.