The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether officials of security firm Blackwater Worldwide tried to bribe Iraqi government officials in hopes of retaining the firm's work in Iraq, The New York Times reported.
Citing unnamed current and former government officials, the newspaper said that the department's fraud section opened the inquiry late last year to determine whether Blackwater employees violated a federal law banning U.S. corporations from paying bribes to foreign officials.
The inquiry is the latest fallout from the 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square in Baghdad, which involved Backwater security guards and left 17 Iraqis dead, the report said.
A federal judge in December dismissed criminal charges against five former Blackwater guards implicated in the episode, but Vice President Joseph Biden recently announced that the administration of President Barack Obama would appeal that decision.
The investigation was confirmed by three current and former officials speaking on condition of anonymity, the newspaper said.
It follows a report in The Times in November that said that top executives at Blackwater had authorized secret payments of about one million dollars to Iraqi officials to buy their support after the shooting.
The Justice Department has obtained two documents from the State Department, which had security contracts with the company, that have raised questions about Blackwater's efforts to influence Iraqi government officials after the Nisoor Square shootings, The Times said.
Blackwater Worldwide changed its name in February 2009 to Xe Services, following what the company said was a change of business focus.
Critics, however, suggested that the rebranding was an effort to polish an image tarnished by an alleged culture of lawlessness and lack of accountability among Blackwater workers as they carried out their duties in Iraq.
The North Carolina-based firm lost its contract to provide security for U.S. embassy diplomats in Baghdad in May 2009 after Iraqis and critics repeatedly accused it of adopting a cowboy mentality to duties in the country.
© AFP 2013