WASHINGTON (AFP) — US military contractor Blackwater USA rejected Saturday allegations that it had been shipping unlicensed automatic weapons and military equipment to Iraq.
Blackwater's denial came as the security firm has been embroiled in controversy over a fatal shooting incident in Baghdad last Sunday that resulted in the deaths of 10 people.
"Allegations that Blackwater was in any way associated or complicit in unlawful arms activities are baseless," Blackwater, which guards US embassy officials in Iraq, said in a statement.
"The company has no knowledge of any employee improperly exporting weapons," said the company based in Moyock, North Carolina.
The News & Observer newspaper, published in Raleigh, North Carolina, reported that two former Blackwater employees have pleaded guilty in Greenville to weapons charges and are cooperating with federal officials investigating Blackwater.
Two sources familiar with the investigation said that prosecutors are looking at whether Blackwater lacked permits for dozens of automatic weapons used at its training grounds in Moyock, the report said.
The investigation is also looking into whether Blackwater was shipping weapons, night-vision scopes, armor, gun kits and other military goods to Iraq without the required permits, according to the paper.
Blackwater said in a statement that it immediately fired the two employees when an internal probe uncovered that they "were stealing from the company."
It added that it also invited the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a US federal agency, to "conduct a thorough investigation."
The weapons-smuggling investigation was mentioned in a letter sent Tuesday to State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard by Democratic Representative Henry Waxman, The News & Observer said.
The congressman charged that Krongard was impeding the investigation "into whether a large private security contractor working for the State Department was illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq."
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