To stifle criticism of civilian killings, the American mercenary group formerly known as Blackwater approved payoffs of up to $1 million for Iraqi politicians, according to former company officials who spoke to The New York Times.

"Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees," the Times reported. "American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually."

The paper added that the four whistleblowers, who were all former Blackwater executives, accused president Gary Jackson of personally approving the payoffs. They did not name the recipients and could not say whether the money was ever delivered.

One of the sources told the Times that officials at the Interior Ministry, where decisions over company operating licenses are made, were the intended recipients of the payments, which were aimed at quelling criticism and eliciting support.

The accusations are only the latest in a long series of scandal and controversy for the firm, now known as Xe.

In August, a former Marine and former Blackwater employee filed sworn affidavits linking company founder Erik Prince to murders and prostitution.

The statements also say that Prince and Blackwater executives were involved in illegal weapons smuggling and had, on numerous occasions, ordered incriminating documents, e-mails, photos and video destroyed. Prince has since resigned -- however, he did not dispute the bribery allegations when confronted by Blackwater's vice chairman at the time, according to one of the whistleblowers quoted by the Times.

The Iraqi government ultimately revoked the mercenary group's operating license after the Nisour Square massacre, which left 17 civilians dead. Five Blackwater guards were charged for the killings. In spite of this, Blackwater's security apparatus continued to operate in the country for two years after it was banned.

Presidential Airways, a subsidiary of Blackwater, had its $200 million contract with the U.S. State Department renewed in September. The company is still operating in Iraq, providing helicopter services to embassy employees.

"Blackwater [also] works in Afghanistan for the State Department, the CIA and the Defense Department," The Nation's Jeremy Scahill added. "It continues to protect US officials there and guards visiting Congressional delegations. Rep. Jan Schakowsky told The Nation she was guarded by Blackwater on a recent trip to Afghanistan and that the company is involved with the security details of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke when they visit the country."

With AFP.