Blackwater founder Erik Prince met a close aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and Donald Trump's incoming administration, The Washington Post reported on Monday.
Citing US, European and Arab officials, The Washington Post reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) arranged a meeting in January in the Seychelles between Prince, who has ties to people close to Trump, and the Russian.
In part the meeting explored whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on US sanctions.
The full agenda of the meeting remains unclear, the report said.
But it confirmed that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan and his brother, the UAE’s national security adviser, coordinated the meeting with Russian government officials and Prince.
The meeting took place nine days before Trump's inauguration and involved businessman Erik Prince — The Washington Post
Blackwater back channel from DeVos brother Erik Prince to unnamed Putin ally via UAE in Seychelles makes Homeland plot feel like Disneyland
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) April 4, 2017
Erik Prince is now the head of the Hong Kong-based company Frontier Services Group. The US businessman has ties to Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and is the brother of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
FBI scrutinises meeting
In its report, The Washington Post said that US officials said the FBI has been scrutinising the meeting in the Indian Ocean island as part of the broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 US election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump.
The FBI declined to comment, the newspaper said.
The officials said Prince presented himself as an unofficial envoy for the president-elect to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant.
The officials did not identify the Russian.
Prince is a high-dollar campaign donor — he and his family reportedly gave more than $10 million to GOP candidates and super PACs in 2016 — and he was a frequent critic of both president Barack Obama and Trump's opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In response to The Washington Post report White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, "we are not aware of any meetings" and a Prince spokesman said the meeting "had nothing to do with President Trump."
Both said Prince had no role in the Trump transition.