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Exclusive: The latest selling point of the Blackwater founder – mercenary for Venezuela



WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Erik Prince – the founder of controversial private security firm Blackwater and a prominent supporter of US President Donald Trump – has pushed ahead with a plan to send a private army to overthrow Venezuelan socialist president Nicholas Maduro. Four sources with knowledge of the effort told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater Security Company, testifies in front of a US Congressional committee on security missions in Iraq and Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington on October 2, 2007. REUTERS / Larry Downing / File Photo [1

9659003] In recent months, sources said, Prince sought out influential Trump supporters and rich Venezuelan exiles to seek investment and political support for such an operation. At private meetings in the United States and Europe, Prince designed a plan to send up to 5,000 soldiers on behalf of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, according to two sources with direct knowledge of Prince's playing field.

According to one source, Prince did not hold meetings on this topic until mid-April.

White House National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis declined comment when asked if Prince had proposed his plan to the government and whether this should be considered. A person familiar with the thinking of the government said that the White House did not support such a plan.

Venezuelan opposition officials have not discussed security with Prince, Guaido spokesman Edward Rodriguez said, answering no further questions from Reuters. The Maduro government has not responded to a request for comment.

Some US and Venezuelan security experts, who were told about the plan by Reuters, called it politically far-fetched and potentially dangerous because it could trigger a civil war. A Venezuelan exile close to the opposition agreed, but said private contractors could prove useful if Maduro's government collapsed by providing security for a new administration.

A spokesman for Prince, Marc Cohen, said this month that Prince "had no plans to perform or conduct an operation in Venezuela" and declined to answer any further questions.

Lital Leshem – Prince Investor Relations Director of Prince's private equity firm Prince has previously acknowledged Prince's interest in security operations in Venezuela.

"He has a solution for Venezuela, as well as for many other places a solution," she said, refusing to respond to his proposal.

The two sources, with direct knowledge of Prinche's field, said it should begin intelligence operations and later deploy 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers from Colombia and other Latin American nations for combat and stabilization operations.

& # 39; DYNAMIC EVENT & # 39;

For Prince, the unlikely move is the latest effort in a long campaign to privatize warfare. The wealthy son of an auto parts tycoon has deployed private security services in conflict zones from Central Asia through Africa to the Middle East.

One of Prince's main arguments, according to one source, is that Venezuela needs a so-called "dynamic event" to break the stalemate that has existed since January, when Guaido, head of the Venezuelan National Assembly, re-declared Maduros in 2018. Unlawful elections and demanded the constitution to accept the provisional presidency.

Maduro has denounced Guaido, who was supported by most Western nations, as an American puppet attempting to carry out a coup. Major government institutions – including the military – have not shifted their loyalty to Guaido, despite international pressure being increased by the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies.

Guaido has stressed that he wants a peaceful solution, and the governments of Latin America, which recognize his authority, have pushed against an external military action. Older US officials have also stressed economic and diplomatic measures to put pressure on Maduro without excluding armed intervention.

CLOSE TIES TO TRUMP

Prince pioneered private military missions during the Iraq war when the US government hired Blackwater to provide security primarily for US State Department operations.

In 2007, Blackwater employees shot dead 17 Iraqi civilians on Nisour Square in Baghdad, causing international outrage. One of the involved Blackwater employees was convicted of murder in December and three others were convicted of manslaughter.

Prince renamed the Blackwater Security Company and sold it in 2010, but recently opened a company called Blackwater USA, which sells ammunition, mufflers and knives. Over the past two years, he led an unsuccessful campaign to convince the Trump administration to replace US soldiers in Afghanistan with security services.

Since 2014, Prince has led the Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group, which maintains close ties with the state-owned Chinese investment company CITIC and helps Chinese companies in Africa with security, aviation and logistics services.

Prince donated $ 100,000 to a political action committee to support Trump's election. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is the school's secretary.

Prince's role in Trump's campaign was highlighted in Special Rapporteur Robert Mueller's report this month on alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The report describes how Prince financed efforts to authenticate alleged Hillary Clinton emails and how he met with a wealthy Russian financial officer on behalf of the Trump transition team in 2016 in the Seychelles off East Africa.

Prince Cohen declined to comment on the Müller report.

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AIM OF FROZEN PLANTS

The two sources, with direct knowledge of the Venezuelan Prinzuela Plan, claimed to target $ 40 million from private investors. It also aims to raise billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets, which have been confiscated by governments around the world to impose sanctions on the OPEC nation, a major oil exporter.

However, it is unclear how the Venezuelan opposition can legally access these assets. Prince told the people in pitch meetings, the sources said he believes Guaido has the authority to form his own force because he has been internationally recognized as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

Prince imagines a troupe consisting of "Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Colombians, Spanish speakers". One source reported that Prince argued that such soldiers would be politically more comfortable than American contractors.

coverage by Aram Roston and Matt Spetalnick; Edited by Kieran Murray and Brian Thevenot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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