Blackwater founder presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to officials. Photo / AP
Blackwater founder presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to officials. Photo / AP

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to United States, European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around January 11 – nine days before Trump’s inauguration – in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump Administration objective that would likely require major concessions to Moscow on US sanctions.

Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump who gave US$250,000 ($357,300) last year to support the GOP nominee’s campaign, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counsellor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as Education Secretary in the Trump Administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.

US officials said the FBI has been scrutinising the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. The FBI declined to comment.

The Seychelles encounter, which one official said spanned two days, adds to an expanding web of connections between Russia and Americans with ties to Trump – contacts that the White House has been reluctant to acknowledge or explain until they have been exposed by news organisations.

“We are not aware of any meetings and Erik Prince had no role in the transition,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary.