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Justice probes whether Blackwater sought to bribe

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is investigating whether security contractor Blackwater Worldwide tried to bribe Iraqi officials to allow the company to keep working there after a fatal shooting involving Blackwater guards, according to a person close to the investigation.

The investigation in Raleigh, N.C., follows a November report by The New York Times that said executives at the North Carolina-based company authorized about $1 million in payments to Iraqi officials in 2007. Blackwater had been the source of tremendous anti-American sentiment following the deadly shooting of 17 Iraqis in a crowded intersection.

The source said the Justice Department's Fraud Section is working with federal prosecutors in North Carolina to investigate whether Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, violated U.S. laws prohibiting bribery of foreign officials. The Times first reported the existence of the investigation yesterday.

In November, the Times cited unnamed sources saying Blackwater's then-president, Gary Jackson, approved the payments. Those sources said Blackwater vice chairman Cofer Black, a former CIA and State Department official, learned of the plan while in Baghdad discussing compensation with U.S. Embassy officials and confronted company chief executive Erik Prince.

Black himself has denied the account. He told The Associated Press that Blackwater was directed "to provide some financial compensation to relatives of those Iraqi victims."

Last week, Vice President Joe Biden, in Iraq, announced that the Obama administration will appeal a federal court decision in the United States that dismissed manslaughter charges against five guards who worked for Blackwater Worldwide.

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