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Report: Blackwater Investigated for Bribery Attempts

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether private security firm Blackwater Worldwide tried to bribe Iraqi officials so the company could continue operating in the country following a deadly shooting that killed 17 Iraqis in 2007, according to a New York Times report.

The report, citing current and former government officials, said the U.S. opened the bribery probe in late 2009. In November, the Times reported that Blackwater officials authorized secret payments worth around $1 million to Iraqi officials in an effort to retain their security work. The Times couldn't confirm whether any payments were made or who received them.

Justice Department investigators obtained two documents from the State Department that may shed light on the company's efforts to soften its critics following the shooting, according to the report.

The first is a handwritten note from a Blackwater representative to a U.S. Embassy official saying the firm had hired a lawyer – identified by several officials as Jaafar al-Mousawi, who served as chief prosecutor against Saddam Hussein – in hopes that his connections to top Iraqi officials would help in obtaining a license to continue their operations in the country.

The second is an e-mail response from a U.S. embassy official to Blackwater warning the company not to bribe members of the Iraqi government.

Mousawi, in an interview with the Times, denied any knowledge of Blackwater trying to bribe Iraqi officials. He said the company spent around $800,000 compensating family members of the shooting victims.

But several Blackwater employees told the Times that the company's then-president, Gary Jackson, approved nearly $1 million in payments to government officials, with a much smaller amount set aside for victims' families.

Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe Services, declined to comment on the Times report. So did the Justice Department.

Blackwater's culpability in the shooting, which took place in Baghdad's Nisour Square, is still a matter of contention. A federal judge last week dismissed criminal charges against five employees, but the Obama administration is expected to appeal the ruling.

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