How UK taxpayers pay costs of war criminal Tony Blair as he sniffs for work with despots
It was “pretty distasteful”, says ambassador, how Blair “used the ticket of Middle East Envoy” to make commercial deals with governments.
THE SCALE of Tony Blair’s globe-trotting is exposed for the first time in secret documents that suggest the taxpayer is paying up to £16,000 a week to help the former prime minister build his business empire.
Documents seen by The Telegraph contain details of Mr Blair’s travels around the world, accompanied by a squad of police bodyguards, flying on private jets and staying in five-star hotels.
The files suggest Mr Blair has used identical trips to carry out both private business meetings and talks in his capacity as Quartet Representative to the Middle East – leaving him open to accusations of a potential conflict of interest.
The documents show how Mr Blair has been visiting up to five countries a week – at a potential cost of between £14,000 and £16,000 to the public purse.
One British ambassador described how a number of companies linked to Mr Blair, including his wife’s law firm, were “sniffing for work” in one European country.
During the trips Mr Blair must be accompanied by a team of Metropolitan Police officers, whose salary, overtime, expenses, travel and meals are picked up by the taxpayer. The most complex trips involve eight officers of varying ranks, while at least four remain at his homes in Britain. Each of the 12 officers is likely to be earning at least £56,000, but can earn upwards of £70,000 due to the overtime they accumulate on foreign trips.
Documents seen by the Telegraph as part of an investigation into Mr Blair’s business interests show how he has nurtured a network of some of the world’s most influential leaders and businessmen to build up a roster of clients paying tens of millions of pounds for his advice.
However, the disclosures prompted suggestions that his paid work had created what appears to be a series of conflicts of interest with his unpaid envoy role, from which he will step down at the end of this month after eight years.
One ambassador who attended meetings with Mr Blair on his Quartet work said the apparent conflict was “pretty distasteful”, adding that Mr Blair “used the ticket of the Middle East Envoy and Quartet” to deal with governments on a commercial basis.
The Telegraph investigation revealed how:
- Mr Blair stays with his entourage in five-star hotels around the world, with each room for his police bodyguards costing the taxpayer an estimated £1,000 on multi-leg trips;
- The former prime minister travels on a series of private jets, in some cases lent by clients and governments;
- Mr Blair secured a £1 million private contract with the World Bank, while simultaneously working with the Bank in his role at Middle East envoy;
- He struck lucrative commercial deals with Abu Dhabi while he was also in negotiations with the emirate as Middle East envoy over $45 million (£29 million) funding for the Palestinian Authority;
- Mr Blair’s team has sought assistance from British officials in order to further his private business interests, including briefings on countries including Canada, Albania and Macedonia;
- In several cases the influential figures Mr Blair meets on private business trips are the same people who are his contacts in his official role as Quartet envoy;
Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative MP who has previously criticised Mr Blair’s wide-ranging business interests, called for Mr Blair to declare fully all his dealings. He said: “Mr Blair has consistently blurred the line between his official and commercial activities, while his security entourage has incurred huge expenses for the British taxpayer.
“It is not appropriate for a man who has held the highest office in the land and has been privy to every one of our nation’s secrets to undertake work for a foreign power.”
Chris Doyle, the director of The Council for Arab-British Understanding, said: “Mr Blair needs to be transparent about his business activities, otherwise he faces the risk of being accused of having conflicts of interest.”
The investigation gives the most detailed picture yet of Mr Blair’s crowded international itinerary. The files show how he is shepherded around America on a speaking tour, and crams meetings with ministers and business leaders into 24-hour visits to Abu Dhabi – one of his biggest clients.
The total cost of wages and expenses for the 12-strong team guarding him would amount to between £14,000 and £16,000 for each week he is travelling, based on a conservative estimate of the number of officers remaining in Britain, and a reported figure of £5,000 expenses per week.
It is likely that Mr Blair picks up the cost of his bodyguards’ travel when they fly on private jets. In one week in February 2012 Mr Blair travelled to Israel in his role as Middle East envoy and then flew on to UAE, Qatar, China and Kazakhstan where he conducted a mixture of charity work and private business.
He stayed with his entourage at hotels including the five-star Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi and the Four Seasons in Doha.
Mr Blair has also been nurturing a relationship with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia.
At one meeting in January 2011, apparently attended by Mr Blair at least partly in his capacity as Quartet envoy, he was accompanied by Stephan Kriesel, the then head of his government advisory practice.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said that Mr Kriesel “happened to be travelling with him”.
The Telegraph’s investigation also reveals how Mr Blair’s firm, Tony Blair Associates, now has a £1.1 million contract with the World Bank to carry out consultancy work, after he enjoyed a close relationship with the Bank as Quartet envoy. A member of the World Bank staff was seconded to work in his Quartet office.
As part of its contract with the Bank, Tony Blair Associates has provided a team of consultants to advise the Romanian government on setting up a “delivery unit”.
The Bank said Mr Blair’s firm offered “the most competitive price” of five competing bids. A spokesman for Mr Blair said the work was “not for profit”.
In October 2013 Nicholas Cannon, the British ambassador to Albania, told Whitehall mandarins that several “Blair-related outfits” were “sniffing for work in Albania”, including Cherie Blair’s law firm Omnia Strategy.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said: “There are no conflicts of interests with any of Mr Blair’s work, including his role as Quartet representative.”
“Clear policies and procedures” were in place to prevent conflicts, including a clause in his commercial contracts stating he will not undertake work that conflicts with his Quartet responsibilities.”
The spokesman added that Abu Dhabi’s funding for the Palestinian Authority came from a “separate organisation” to Mubadala, the sovereign wealth fund that Mr Blair advises.
She added that Mr Blair had “absolutely never used his position as a Quartet representative to further business interests” and suggested that it was in “the country’s interests” for Foreign Office officials to support Mr Blair’s work abroad.
Spokesmen for Mr Blair and Scotland Yard declined to comment on his security arrangements.Source: The Telegraph