LONDON – (Reuters) – After running one of the world’s biggest and most controversial private military groups, Blackwater founder Erik Prince is starting a new venture providing logistics for oil and mining companies in remote and dangerous parts of Africa.
China is increasingly looking to Africa to meet its ever growing demand for natural resources. Trade between the two reached an estimated $200 billion this year. With 85 percent of Chinese imports from the continent being oil or minerals, Prince sees an opportunity.
He wants to use his experience of getting people and equipment in and out of remote places, where there is little or no infrastructure, to help companies looking to exploit abundant natural resources in places like Sudan or Somalia.
The 44-year-old former U.S. Navy Seal became chairman of Frontier Services Group (FSG) (0500.HK) this month, a Hong Kong-listed company of which China’s state-backed investment fund Citic CITIC.UL owns 15 percent. Prince himself has share options in the firm that would convert to a 9 percent stake.
The appointment is a remarkable turn-around for a man vilified by many as a war-profiteer with blood on his hands. Blackwater, which provided security for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan and grew from a $6 million investment into a billion dollar business, gained notoriety after its guards were accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007.
Iraq revoked Blackwater’s licence.
In the political backlash that followed, the U.S. pulled its contracts and the Blackwater empire which had been heavily reliant on government work, began to crumble. Accusations of tax evasion, illegal weapons and more deaths followed.
Blackwater denied wrongdoing.
The firm changed its name to Xe Services as Prince resigned as chief executive in 2009. He sold the firm in 2010, after which it changed its name again, this time to Academi.
Prince seeks both to emphasize the similar skills and people involved in providing logistics in Africa with the work Blackwater did, while also distancing himself from the violence and the politics.
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