NAIROBI, Kenya — Erik Prince, the previous head of the safety contractor Blackwater Worldwide and a distinguished supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, violated a United Nations arms embargo on Libya by sending weapons to a militia commander who was making an attempt to overthrow the internationally backed authorities, in response to U.N. investigators.
A confidential U.N. report obtained by The New York Instances and delivered by investigators to the Safety Council on Thursday reveals how Mr. Prince deployed a pressure of international mercenaries, armed with assault plane, gunboats and cyberwarfare capabilities, to jap Libya on the top of a serious battle in 2019.
As a part of the operation, which the report mentioned price $80 million, the mercenaries additionally deliberate to kind a success squad that would observe down and kill chosen Libyan commanders.
Mr. Prince, a former Navy SEAL and the brother of Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s training secretary, turned an emblem of the excesses of privatized American army pressure when his Blackwater contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.
Previously decade he has relaunched himself as an govt who strikes offers — generally for minerals, different instances involving army pressure — in war-addled however resource-rich nations, largely in Africa.
Through the Trump administration, Mr. Prince was a beneficiant donor and a staunch ally of the president, usually in league with figures like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone as they sought to undermine Mr. Trump’s critics. And Mr. Prince got here below scrutiny from the Trump-Russia inquiry over his assembly with a Russian banker in 2017.
Mr. Prince refused to cooperate with the U.N. inquiry; his lawyer didn’t reply to questions in regards to the report. Final 12 months the lawyer, Matthew L. Schwartz, advised The Instances that Mr. Prince “had nothing by any means” to do with army operations in Libya.
The accusation that Mr. Prince violated the U.N.’s arms embargo on Libya exposes him to attainable U.N. sanctions, together with a journey ban and a freeze on his financial institution accounts and different property — although such an final result is unsure.
The report raises the query of whether or not Mr. Prince performed on his ties to the Trump administration to tug off the Libya operation.
It describes how a pal and former associate of Mr. Prince traveled to Jordan to purchase surplus, American-made Cobra helicopters from the Jordanian army — a sale that ordinarily would require American authorities permission, in response to army consultants. The pal, Christiaan Durrant, assured officers in Jordan that he had “clearances from in every single place” and his crew’s work had been authorised “on the highest stage,” the report discovered.
However the Jordanians, unimpressed by these claims, stopped the sale, forcing the mercenaries to supply new plane from South Africa.
A Western official, talking to the Instances on the situation of anonymity as a result of he was not permitted to debate confidential work, mentioned the investigators had additionally obtained telephone information displaying that Mr. Prince’s pal and former associate Mr. Durrant made a number of calls to the principle White Home switchboard in late July 2019, after the mercenary operation bumped into bother. The Western officers mentioned it was unclear whom Mr. Durrant sought to contact, or if he acquired by means of.
Contacted by means of his Fb web page, Mr. Durrant declined to remark and referred to a assertion he issued to the Australian Broadcasting Company final September. “We don’t breach sanctions; we don’t ship army companies, we don’t carry weapons, and we aren’t mercenaries,” it mentioned.
The sheer breadth of proof within the newest U.N. report — 121 pages of code names, cowl tales, offshore financial institution accounts and secretive weapons transfers spanning eight nations, to not point out a short point out of a Hollywood pal of Mr. Prince — supplies a glimpse into the secretive world of worldwide mercenaries.
Libya started to fracture a decade in the past, when the violent ouster of the nation’s longtime dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, set in movement a political disaster that splintered the nation into armed factions, many finally supported by international powers hoping to form the future of the oil-rich North African nation.
Japanese Libya is now within the arms of Khalifa Hifter, the highly effective militia commander whom Mr. Prince agreed to help, in response to the report, because the nation was wracked by combating in 2019.
A one-time CIA asset who returned from exile in Virginia after the autumn of Mr. Qaddafi in 2011, Mr. Hifter quickly established himself within the jap metropolis of Benghazi as an aspiring strongman who was decided to blast his method to energy if needed.
In his late 70s, Mr. Hifter has relied for years on the United Arab Emirates for funding, armed drones and a variety of highly effective weapons, in response to successive United Nations stories. Extra not too long ago, Mr. Hifter has additionally acquired backing from Russia, within the type of mercenaries with the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group that has develop into an integral a part of his battle machine.
In April 2019, Mr. Hifter launched a blistering assault on the capital, Tripoli, however formidable obstacles stood in his approach, together with newly arrived troops from Turkey supporting the U.N.-backed authorities. So Mr. Hifter turned to Mr. Prince, the U.N. investigators discovered.
At a gathering with Mr. Hifter in Cairo, 10 days after the beginning of the marketing campaign to grab Tripoli, Mr. Prince made his pitch for the $80 million mercenary operation, the UN inspectors revealed.
However the mercenary operation turned to catastrophe simply months later.
No sooner had 20 mercenaries arrived in Benghazi in June 2019 — Britons, Australians, South Africans and one American — than they turned embroiled in a dispute with Mr. Hifter, who accused them of failing to ship promised American-made Cobra helicopters, the report discovered. Tensions rose and, on June 29, the mercenaries bailed out of Libya by boat on an arduous 40-hour journey throughout the Mediterranean till they reached security in Malta.
However key parts of the mercenary mission — a cyberwarfare crew that arrived individually and a number of other assault plane — remained in Libya, the report mentioned. And the fleeing troopers of fortune left behind a protracted path of paperwork that finally led U.N. investigators to Mr. Prince.
A PowerPoint presentation proven to Mr. Hifter and reproduced within the report lists attainable “excessive worth targets” for assassination, together with Abdulrauf Kara, a serious commander in Tripoli, and two different Libyan commanders who maintain Irish passports, suggesting the mercenaries have been able to hit European Union residents if needed.
A welter of contracts detailed within the report present how Mr. Prince moved three plane into Libya at quick discover, transferring one for a nominal sum of $10.
There are additionally hints of a sure self-regarding bravado contained in the group.
The report mentioned that on a visit to Jordan, Mr. Durrant, the pal and former associate of Mr. Prince, used the quilt title Gene Rynack — near Gene Ryack, the cowboy pilot performed by Mel Gibson within the film “Air America,” a few CIA airline that smuggled medication and weapons through the Vietnam Struggle.
In truth, Mr. Prince is aware of Mr. Gibson and hosted him in Abu Dhabi for a few days in 2013, mentioned Gregg Smith, a former marine who labored with Mr. Prince on the time.
Mr. Prince has been angling for army enterprise in Libya since 2013, largely by means of Mr. Hifter, the report says. In 2015, Mr. Prince equipped the Libyan commander with a personal jet, owned by the Hong Kong-based Frontier Providers Group firm led by Mr. Prince, and which Mr. Hifter used for journey to conferences in Egypt and throughout the area, the report says.
That very same 12 months Mr. Prince pitched the European Union on a personal army pressure to patrol Libya’s borders and fight unlawful migration. The Europeans declined.
To the skin world, the mercenaries claimed to be engaged on a geological survey or an oil and fuel mission. The report says that Bridgeporth, a British survey firm then owned by Mr. Prince, was used to fabricate cowl tales — simply as the corporate had been used as cowl for earlier mercenary operations in South Sudan and Uganda.
Travis Maki, an American pilot who as soon as labored for Bridgeporth, advised U.N. investigators that he flew one in every of Mr. Prince’s planes into Libya simply earlier than the operation. The airplane, a Pilatus PC-6, had beforehand been utilized by Mr. Prince throughout his Blackwater days, and is similar mannequin utilized by Mr. Gibson’s character within the film “Air America.” In Libya, it had been fitted with highly effective optical sensors that made it a bit of army gear, the arms inspectors concluded.
In an e-mail, Mark Davies, the chief govt of Bridgeporth, denied the corporate’s plane have been used for something apart from surveys, and mentioned that Mr. Maki had not labored for the corporate since 2018. Mr. Prince’s Frontier Group, which as soon as invested in Bridgeporth, now not held a stake within the firm, he added.
Mr. Prince has confronted accusations of violating worldwide regulation earlier than. In 2012, U.N. investigators accused his antipiracy pressure in Somalia, the Puntland Maritime Police Power, of “essentially the most brazen violation of the arms embargo by a personal safety firm.”
Whether or not he’ll face sanctions on account of the accusations in opposition to him, although, is very unsure. Mr. Prince can now not depend on allies with the Trump administration to guard him. On the identical time, a senior diplomat on the U.N. mentioned, the Biden administration could also be reluctant to penalize an American for breaches of the arms embargo when others are responsible of far worse.
In October, the European Union imposed sanctions on Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a rich Russian businessman referred to as “Putin’s chef” for his shut ties to the Wagner Group mercenaries combating in Libya. However Mr. Prigozhin will get solely a fleeting point out within the newest U.N. report — maybe as a result of investigators, blocked by Russia, struggled to construct a case in opposition to the Russian businessman.
On the opposite facet of the struggle, the report identifies Turkey — an ally of Libya’s internationally backed authorities — as a serious violator of the arms embargo.
The large query about Mr. Prince left unanswered by the U.N. report is who funded the $80 million mercenary operation he’s accused of enterprise.
“He’s been linked to the Trump administration, the Emirati management and the Russians,” mentioned Wolfram Lacher, a Libya skilled on the German Institute for Worldwide and Safety Affairs. “For me, the query is who’s tacitly backing him?”
Analysts and Western officers mentioned the U.A.E. was the most probably international funder of the Libya mercenary operation. The report factors out that the mercenaries had places of work, financial institution accounts and shell firms within the Emirates. Furthermore, the highly effective ruler of the Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, has longstanding ties to Mr. Prince and might be Mr. Hifter’s most necessary international backer.
Final 12 months, the U.A.E. poured tons of weapons into Libya in blatant disregard for the arms embargo, at the same time as Sheikh Mohammed traveled to Berlin for a serious peace convention on Libya, the place he posed with European leaders.
As with earlier U.N. investigations, the Emirates refused to cooperate with requests for details about the operation involving Mr. Prince and the mercenaries.
“They’ve but to reply,” the report famous.
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.