Raleigh, N.C. – Federal agents raided Blackwater Worldwide this week as part of an investigation into whether the private security company sidestepped federal laws prohibiting the private purchase of automatic assault rifles, the company said Thursday.
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched Blackwater's armory at its corporate headquarters in Moyock on Tuesday as part of the investigation. She said she did not know whether the weapons in question were seized.
The company signed agreements in 2005 in which Blackwater financed the purchase of 34 automatic weapons. Camden County Sheriff Tony Perry became the official owner of the weapons, but Blackwater was allowed to keep most of the guns at its armory.
Federal laws prohibit private parties from buying automatic weapons.
"We believe all aspects of our contacts with the sheriff’s office are lawful and proper," Tyrrell said, adding that the ATF has known about the arrangement for a long time.
She said it is not unusual for Blackwater to store automatic weapons because the company is licensed to sell, provide training on, or even manufacture firearms.
Both ATF and U.S. Attorney George Holding declined to comment.
The 2005 agreements gives the sheriff's office unlimited access to the weapons, including 17 Romanian AK-47s and 17 Bushmasters. But Perry said his department has only used the AK-47s in shooting practice at Blackwater and that none of his 19 deputies are qualified to use them.
The 34 weapons are registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record to the Camden County sheriff. The AK-47s and five of the Bushmasters were stored and used at Blackwater while the remainder of the weapons were assigned to local deputies, Perry had said.
Blackwater is the largest private security firm in Iraq, and it has been under scrutiny as a federal grand jury in Washington investigates the company's involvement in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians. The firm is also under investigation for possible weapons smuggling allegations — violations the firm strongly denies.