The State Department is preparing to slap a multimillion-dollar fine on private military contractor Blackwater Worldwide for shipping hundreds of automatic weapons to Iraq without the necessary permits.
Some of the weapons are thought to have ended up on the country's black market, department officials told McClatchy Newspapers, but no criminal charges have been filed in the case.
The expected fine is the result of a long-running federal investigation into whether employees of the firm shipped weapons hidden in shrink-wrapped pallets from its headquarters in Eastern North Carolina to Iraq, where Blackwater is the State Department's largest personal security contractor.
Since the arms shipment allegations first became public 14 months ago, Blackwater, which has received $1.2 billion in federal contracts, according to the Web site fedspending.org, has consistently denied involvement in illicit arms trafficking.
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However, the State Department found that Blackwater shipped 900 weapons to Iraq without the paperwork required by arms export control regulations, one department official said. Of that number, 119 were “particularly … erroneous,” he said. He and the other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision hasn't been announced.
Federal laws require obtaining a license before exporting military hardware, including automatic weapons, overseas.
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said Wednesday that the company had “not been informed of an intent to impose a fine, however … we have been cooperating with the government to respond to inquiries into our export processes.”
The State Department's “resolution of export matters with other significant defense contractors, such as Boeing, L-3, Lockheed-Martin and General Dynamics has typically resulted in some payment” to the government, she said in an e-mail exchange.
Blackwater last month announced what it billed as a major new initiative to ensure that the company complies with rules for exporting military hardware.
The amount of the planned fine couldn't be learned, but one State Department official said it was “way in the millions.”
What became of the weapons may never be known.