Donald Trump inauguration

Boss of security firm backed by China gets Trump inauguration invite amid speculation about links

Erik Prince, former US Navy Seal who provides security services for Chinese state firms, gets ‘personal invitation’ amid claims about ‘intelligence advice in the shadows’ for new US president

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 1:26am

The former United States Navy Seal who ran a private security firm which gained notoriety during the invasion of Iraq and who now leads a Hong Kong company aiming to play a key role in China’s “new Silk Road” initiative received a “personal invitation” to Friday’s inauguration of US President Donald Trump.

Erik Prince, the chairman of Hong Kong stock exchange-listed Frontier Services Group (FSG) and ex-CEO of Blackwater, has described his relationship with the newly installed 45th president as one of “mutual respect” but rejected suggestions published this week that he is offering advice on intelligence matters to Trump.

Prince’s sister is Betsy DeVos, the billionaire heiress expected to become education secretary in the new Trump administration, but a spokesman for FSG would only say that Prince and the new US commander-in-chief were “aware of each other”.

Hong Kong headquartered logistics, transportation and security company FSG is backed by China’s state-owned financial conglomerate CITIC. It already provides logistics, aviation and risk management services to Chinese firms setting up in Africa and is positioning itself to do the same for Beijing’s flagship “One Belt, One Road” push into the global marketplace.

It is understood FSG sees an opportunity in helping move China’s people, money and goods along the new Silk Road by offering the expertise and knowledge Prince and others have gained operating in “difficult” environments in Africa and the Middle East.

A veteran risk management executive based in Hong Kong who requested not to be named said: “There are not many in the business who can say: ‘We safely took a senior military official from one side of war-torn Fallujah to the other, I think the new Silk Road shouldn’t be a problem.’”

This week, news website The Intercept republished claims first made in March last year alleging Prince was the subject of a US Department of Justice investigation into money laundering and links to China’s intelligence community.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince to help Chinese firms set up shop in Africa

The spokesman said Prince, who sold Blackwater in 2010, had “denied any wrongdoing” when questioned by the company board about the claims.

Prince’s personal lawyer, Victoria Toensing, has described the allegations as “total bull****”. Asked about Toensing’s comment, the spokesman said: “Victoria is Erik’s personal lawyer. However, we completely agree with her assessment.”

People close to Prince have also rejected claims in an Intercept story published online this week that Prince was providing “intelligence advice in the shadows” to Trump.

A controversial intelligence dossier which sparked a political and media storm when its heavily disputed contents – that Trump was compromised by political and personal dirt Russia held on him – was made public earlier this month and contained a little discussed paragraph in which a source claimed the Trump camp were “relatively relaxed” about the allegations.

The dossier said this was “because it deflected media and the Democrats’ attention away from Trump’s business dealings in China and other emerging markets ... which, were they to become public, would be potentially very damaging to their campaign”.

The spokesman said he was not in a position to comment on the dossier.

Blackwater rose to public prominence in September 2007 after its operatives gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians, including a nine-year-old boy, in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. An appeal against some subsequent convictions of operatives in the US began this week.

FSG also has offices in Beijing, Dubai, Nairobi and Johannesburg. Corporate information for the firm states: “From Asia to Africa, FSG helps transport and protect your people, goods and equipment across air, sea and ground.”