In which Erik Prince, of Blackwater infamy, attempts to build a private airforce

All of this reads like fiction. Like really good fiction. Except it is probably closer to the truth than not.

Here is a summary. Erik Prince, he of the Blackwater fame, basically allegedly tried to retool crop dusters into light armored fighter planes and then sell them to African governments — with at least one delivery to South Sudan. Prince currently runs Frontier Services Group, a Nairobi-based company (complete with a CSR operation in Kibera) that is registered in Bermuda and listed in Hong Kong. According to its website, the company provides services in aviation, trucking, warehousing, and maritime.

Here’s part of the fascinating story in The Intercept:

The story of how Prince secretly plotted to transform the two aircraft for his arsenal of mercenary services is based on interviews with nearly a dozen people who have worked with Prince over the years, including current and former business partners, as well as internal documents, memos, and emails. Over a two-year period, Prince exploited front companies and cutouts, hidden corporate ownership, a meeting with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout’s weapons supplier, and at least one civil war in an effort to manufacture and ultimately sell his customized armed counterinsurgency aircraft. If he succeeded, Prince would possess two prototypes that would lay the foundation for a low-cost, high-powered air force capable of generating healthy profits while fulfilling his dream of privatized warfare.

And all this was possible, despite obvious legal questions, because everyone involved knew they could get away with it.

In Europe, it is very illegal. You are breaking a lot of laws.” He recalled one of Prince’s deputies saying that the aircraft would be used for surveillance operations in Africa and “no one there cares about certifications.”

FSG entered the Kenyan logistics market by acquiring two aviation companies, Kijipwa Aviation and Phoenix Aviation. It has since also bought a logistics firm based in the DRC (Cheetah Logistics SARL) and plans to expand further in the region. FSG’s goal in entering Kenya was to provide “passenger and freight services to multinational oil and mining companies transporting staff to remote areas such as Lokichar and Lokichoggio and other locations in East Africa.

I really hope that the regulators in the different jurisdictions where FSG operates know what they are doing.

In response to The Intercept‘s story, FSG issued this statement.