Monday, October 19, 2009

Tony Blair cashes in on contacts

The 'statesman for hire' earns a fortune as he flips roles between public official and private consultant, writes Jon Ungoed-Thomas

TONY Blair has cashed in on his contacts from the Iraq war and his role as Middle East peace envoy for a private business venture expected to earn him more than pound stg. 5 million ($8.9m) a year.

The former British prime minister has sold his political and economic expertise to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, via his fledgling private consultancy. He also represents the investment bank JPMorgan in the region.

Mr Blair has been working pro bono in the Middle East as a peace envoy while amassing a fortune from the US lecture circuit. By offering himself to the Arab states as a statesman for hire, he could double his annual earnings.

His consultancy, the London-based Tony Blair Associates, emulates the New York partnership Kissinger Associates, founded by Henry Kissinger, the former national security adviser to US president Richard Nixon.

A friend of Mr Blair said: "TBA has been set up to make money from foreign governments and major companies. There's a focus on the Middle East, because that's where the money is."

His expanding business interests as he roves across the Middle East mean he flips his roles on a daily basis in official meetings. One hour he is the official peace envoy meeting a Middle East minister or ruler, the next he is a representative of TBA or JPMorgan.

In some meetings with Arab states, where Mr Blair is introduced as the peace envoy, he has been flanked by Jonathan Powell, his former chief of staff, who accepted a job with Morgan Stanley, another US investment bank, after leaving Downing Street. Mr Powell has no role in the peace process, but is a senior adviser to TBA and helps to win business in the Middle East.

Peter Brierley, 59, from Batley, West Yorkshire, whose son Shaun, 28, was killed near the Kuwait-Iraq border in March 2003 and who refused to shake Mr Blair's hand at a memorial service this month, said: "This beggars belief.

"It's absolutely scandalous that he's now trying to make money from his contacts in the region. It's money from the blood and lives of the soldiers who died in Iraq."

Hours after he stepped down from No10 in June 2007, Mr Blair became the Middle East envoy, on behalf of the European Union, the UN, US and Russia. Four months after leaving office, Blair signed a pound stg. 5m book deal with Random House. He is working on his memoirs, which are pencilled in for publication this time next year.

His fees for talks, along with contracts with JPMorgan and Zurich Financial Services, are estimated to put his earnings -- excluding the book deal -- well in excess of pound stg. 5m a year.

TBA's annual earnings in the Middle East alone could be expected easily to double his current income, according to business sources in the region.

Mr Blair disclosed last December that he had formed TBA to advise on "political and economic trends and governmental reform". One of his first recruits was Mr Powell.

On January 17, Blair was in Saudi Arabia in his peace envoy role to hold talks with King Abdullah on the Gaza strip and the need to end Israeli aggression. Mr Powell was also on the trip. Two days later, Mr Blair and Mr Powell met the nephew of the king, Prince Alwaleed, the wealthiest businessman in the Middle East, with a fortune of more than $26 billion.

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Source: The Australian

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