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Africa. American mercenaries at the service of Chinese companies

Erik Prince, founder of the controversial private security contractor Blackwater to advise and support Chinese investments in oil, mining and other sectors in the African continent.

Erik Prince, a former member of the United States Navy SEALs, founded the Blackwater in 1997, when he turned the family company, a supplier to the automobile manufacturing industry, into a mercenary contractor firm. After 11 September the company became one of the protagonists of the American wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas of the world, by providing armed guards to the State Department, to US military bases and the CIA.

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However, Blackwater’s relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency went far deeper than most observers thought. According to Prince, Blackwater’s work with the CIA began when the contractor provided specialized instructors and facilities that the Agency lacked, and later the company became a virtual extension of the CIA, as it was asked  to carry out dangerous missions, which the Agency either could not or would not do in-house. Besides, even several former CIA officials including  Enrique “Ric” Prado and  Cofer Black, former chiefs of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) worked for Blackwater.
The private security contractor came under increasing criticism after the scandal of 17 Iraqi civilians killed by its mercenaries in the streets of Baghdad. The company was also under investigation following several allegations about its operations and methods, therefore in March 2009 Prince announced his resignation as CEO of Blackwater which changed its name to Xe Services and later to Academi.

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In 2010 Prince started a new life. He moved to Abu Dhabi where he founded a new company, Reflex Responses, or R2, with 51 percent local ownership. The 800 men of R2, who mainly come from Latin America, actively support the UAE troops in Yemen in the fight against the Houthis. According to some sources, in 2011, Prince trained a force of 2000 Somalis for antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, but his participation in this initiative remains controversial.
In 2014, Prince  created a private equity firm called Frontier Service Group, a Bermuda-incorporated logistics and transport company listed on the Hong Stock Exchange . Frontier Service Group is backed by China’s state-owned CITI Group  and Hong Kong-based investor Johnson Ko Chun Shun. Officially, the FSG does not deal with security but with logistics and transport for the Chinese companies operating in Africa.
“FSG provides the transportation of men and materials, the building of infrastructures such as bridges or roads to allow, for example, the transportation of raw materials from extractive areas to the major ports of Kenya or South Africa. FSG employs 400 people and has offices in Beijing and in Nairobi and it operates in Katanga, in Sudan and in South Sudan. The personnel of the company are not armed and rely on local contractors for the armed security”, said Prince in an interview at Le Monde.

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Among the Board members of the company there are people who have worked either for the Chinese security services or for those of the US, such as Lawrence Zhao, the Chief Executive Officer of the Frontier Service Group China. His profile in the Company web site says, ‘Lawrence Zhao is the Chief Executive Officer of FSG China. Zhao has an LL.M degree from the University of Nottingham. With two decades of professional experience, he started his law enforcement career with the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China. He later served as Chief Executive Officer and President of China Security & Protection Co. Ltd., a leading domestic security service organization established by the Ministry of Public Security and North China General Manager and China Business Development Director of the G4S Group.

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Before joining FSG, he was the co-founder and Chairman of cRisk Services, a leading Chinese security and risk management consultancy firm which specialised in risk assessment and security planning for outbound Chinese enterprises’. Chief Security Officer Ric Peregrino is another member of the FSG China, his FSG’s profile says, ‘Ric Peregrino is the Managing Director of Kijipwa, a 49% owned subsidiary of FSG. He has advised the corporate and national security industries since 1994, and has managed complex, global security and logistics programs in Africa, the Middle East and Europe in various capacities over the past 20 years. Mr. Peregrino began his career as a United States Marine. After completing his seven-plus years of service, Mr. Peregrino entered the International Corporate Security industry, quickly progressing to managing large VIP security operations and developing critical training for close protection teams. He also served as a local law enforcement officer where he was awarded two ‘Valor Awards’. He has published papers on many security topics and has participated in the international arena as a featured speaker for the corporate security industry and law enforcement’. FSG Chief Executive Officer, Gregg Smith, also previously worked for Blackwater and served in the United States Marine Corps, before joining FSG.

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Other consultants who work for Prince’s FSG are a former expert of the National Security Agency, Jon Dolan, and retired  Admiral William Fallon, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and later of US Central Command (responsible for the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan). He was criticized  as Commander of the Pacific Command, for his conciliatory line towards Beijing.
Prince’ s role inside the FSG currently seems to be walking a fine line after the revelations of ‘The Intercept’, an on-line publication, according to which he is facing possible charges in the US for selling military services, mercenaries and strategic consulence to Libya  (perhaps to the government of Tripoli). He allegedly did that personally in 2013, and as a representative of FSG in 2015. An initiative, which according to the other FSG Board members, was not authorized. Will,  Erik Prince be forced to change career once again ?

Charles Banduga

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