Washington, April 4 (IANS) Controversial Blackwater founder Erik Prince acted as a back-channel go-between for President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a report.
The meeting, convened by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), took place around January 11 – nine days before Trump’s inauguration – in the Seychelles islands, The Washington Post said in a report on Monday citing US, European and Arab officials.
Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria.
Officials said that Prince represented himself as an emissary for then President-elect Trump for the meeting in the Seychelles, though both he and the administration deny it.
Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign.
He founded the Blackwater firm that became a private security provider for the US government in Iraq.
He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the President’s Chief Strategist and senior counsellor.
He was also seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December, The Washington Post report said.
The US officials said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been scrutinising the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 US election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump.
However, the FBI has declined to comment.
“We are not aware of any meetings, and Erik Prince had no role in the transition,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in response late Monday.
A Prince spokesman said in a statement: “Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication. The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”