Scottish Daily Mail
Greed of Blair Inc
In the week he pledged £106,000 to Labour, a devastating book pierces the wall of secrecy around Blair’s murky — and morally dubious — money-making empire
Blair has turned into ‘a human cash register’
‘He’s done nothing positive except make
AFTER Tony Blair left Downing Street for the last time on June 27, 2007, he headed by train to his constituency in Co. Durham with Cherie and the children. At Darlington station car park, the family walked towards a smart BMW — until someone whispered in the ear of the now former prime minister that it was not his car. Would he kindly head towards the Vauxhall in the far corner?
Here was a sudden and sharp reminder of his changed status. Perhaps it was at that moment Blair decided he needed to re-create the life he had lived as prime minister; that, despite his loss of office, he would never be humiliated like that again; and that in future, the car waiting for him would always be the best one in the car park.
More likely, however, is that he had made that decision many years earlier. What is certain is that in the years since leaving office, Britain’s longest-serving Labour prime minister has made more money than any previous former PM in history.
He has amassed a fortune believed to be at least £60 million and built a property empire worth an estimated £25 million, including four London homes and a grade I-listed manor in Buckinghamshire.
What a turnaround in the Blair family’s financial fortunes. They have certainly moved on from the fraught days in 2003 when it was revealed that, with the help of conman Peter Foster, Cherie had bought two flats in Bristol for £265,000 (which have since been sold for a total of £575,000).
When they bought their grand home i n London’s Connaught Square in 2004 for £3.65 million, the deposit — £182,500 — was higher than Blair’s prime ministerial salary. That left them with what Cherie described in her memoirs as a mortgage ‘ the size of Mount Snowdon’ — £3.47 million, to be paid off over 25 years.
Since then their finances have improved to the point where they have been able to buy London homes for their daughter Kathryn and son Nicky for £975,000 and £1.35 million respectively. In cash.
Then there’s the cottage in Buckinghamshire bought for Tony’s sister for £600,000, again in cash; a £1.29 million home for son Euan, bought with a mortgage; the manor house in Buckinghamshire, bought for £5.75 million; and the mews house behind their Connaught Square home, bought in 2008 with an £800,000 mortgage, which is now paid off.
Last October, Cherie bought ten apartments i n Manchester f or £650,000, followed a few weeks later by 14 apartments i n nearby Southport, bought with her son Euan for an estimated £1.3 million.
Not to mention the sumptuous offices in Grosvenor Square rented by Blair at a cost of £550,000 a year as the UK headquarters of his consultancy, Tony Blair Associates.
The glamorous Georgian townhouse resembles the seat of power of a president or prime minister.
On the mantelpiece in his creamcoloured office are pictures of him with elder statesmen such as Nelson Mandela. ‘He runs his office like No 10,’ says a former staffer.
The manor house in Buckinghamshire rivals Chequers — the grace-and-favour country estate of the Prime Minister — complete with formal garden.
In short, he has maintained all the trappings of power while adopting the lifestyle of the billionaire jet set with whom he liked to holiday while prime minister.
To achieve this, he has turned himself, in the words of one critic, into ‘a human cash register’.
It’s not a sin for our political leaders to earn money once they leave Downing Street.
Blair’s immediate predecessor, John Major, took a senior position with the U.S. private equity firm Carlyle Group.
Margaret Thatcher made $500,000 a year as a consultant with Philip Morris, the tobacco company.
But their earnings are dwarfed by Blair’s. They were also far more discreet and restrained in their business dealings and, by Blair’s standards, very easily satisfied. By contrast, Blair is reported to have told one of those guarding him that he would like to be as wealthy as Bill Clinton (estimated to have a net worth of $80 million).
He has sought to make his money while also creating an international profile as a do-gooder, becoming the Middle East special envoy of the Quartet (an international diplomatic group consisting of the UN, the EU, the U.S. and Russia) and setting up charities, such as the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the African Governance Initiative.
What is most disturbing about Blair i s that no f ormer prime minister has built his new-found wealth so directly on exploiting his one-time office. It was at No 10 that he made the contacts and cultivated the relationships that are now making him so very rich.
The potential for conflicts of interest is immense. He accepted the invitation to become the (unpaid) Middle East envoy on the day he stepped down as prime minister.
Just six months later, on January 10, 2008, he was appointed to the board of U.S. investment bank J. P. Morgan Chase, on an annual salary of £2 million.
In 2010, Blair agreed a secret contract with a Saudi oil company for arranging introductions to his contacts in China for a fee of £41,000 a month plus 2 per cent commission on any deals he helped broker.
The contract, which, according to a spokesman for the oil company PetroSaudi, lasted ‘ four or five months maximum’, came to light only after it was leaked to a British newspaper in November 2014.
A former British ambassador to Libya, Oliver Miles, has demanded that Blair disclose the rest of his commercial interests. He is one of a group of former ambassadors who are calling for Blair to be removed from his post as Middle East envoy because of the conflict of interest with his business dealings.
A leading U.S. businessman who was once close to Blair and advised him to prioritise doing good, not making money, has discreetly moved out of his life as he watched the progress of his work as envoy.
The businessman (who is, like Blair, an active Christian) told us that the f ormer PM privately thought his advice was absurd.
He feels Blair is ‘very interested in making money and it takes precedence over other things. It is also clear he has done a horrible job in all the assignments he has taken. There is no evidence he has done anything positive, other than make money’.
He believes Blair treats the Middle East envoy job as a ‘calling card’ and adds: ‘He travels round the world as the Quartet representative. But when he meets the Sultan or the Emir, do they think they are going to talk about the Quartet or about getting investment advice from him?’
It’s a troubling question, but anyone seeking to answer it faces one overwhelming problem: the extraordinary veil of secrecy that Tony Blair has thrown over his money-making empire.
BLAIR is the first prime minister in British history whose activities after leaving office are so extensive they merit a book in their own right.
When we asked for help from Blair’s organisations and friends, we made the point to them that secretiveness builds suspicion. But it quickly became apparent that we were up against a culture of secrecy so extreme we had encountered it only once before.
The only other public figure so affronted that any person should seek to write about him when not authorised by him to do so, and who instructed his adherents and employees to give no assistance at all to so disrespectful a project, was Arthur Scargill.
We approached Blair’s media spokespeople as well as present and f ormer s enior s t aff and immediately came up against a brick wall. All of them had signed savagely worded confidentiality agreements — as does everyone who works for Blair, even unpaid interns. Even ordinary pieces of information were treated as though they were state secrets: for example, the press officer at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation refused to give its address, referring us instead to what i s given on the website: PO Box 60519, London W2 7JU.
This lack of transparency, combined with the confusion of Blair’s roles and the permanent conflict of interest that surrounds them, is what makes his business dealings appear so suspicious.
As founder and chief executive of Tony Blair Associates, he has created an organisation with the most impenetrable financial structure that is legally possible in Britain.
Clever tax accountants and lawyers have devised a structure of companies that breaks no rules, but means that Blair can deny any public claim disclosing his income — because no one can prove it.
When journalists and others make estimates, Blair representatives invariably say these are wrong, but provide no information. Except
once. Blair was asked about his net worth during the razzmatazz on July 21, 2014, the 20th anniversary of his taking the leadership of the Labour Party.
Asked if he was worth £100 million, he replied he was worth just a fifth of that.
Just £20 million? Our estimate is three times more, but he has set up a system that makes it virtually impossible to work out his wealth; even he might have difficulty calculating it.
It also makes it impossible to know who is paying him or where the money goes.
At the top of this complex structure is the umbrella organisation, Tony Blair Associates, which was established in 2009.
Sheltering beneath it is a web of 12 legal entities, structured in such a way as to be impenetrable. Money presumably passes between them, but how and to what precise purpose is unknown.
These legal entities are split into what are known as the Windrush companies and t he Firerush companies, and are organised via a nominee company through leading private wealth lawyers, Bircham Dyson Bell.
The names of owners do not have to be declared. Shares are listed as held by the l awyers, acting as nominees. Details of the accounts are generally undisclosed, so it is impossible to see what money is coming in and where it comes from.
According to one of Blair’s internal business experts: ‘ There is a structure that looks unnecessarily complex and those names do not mean much in terms of trading.
‘ You know, t he president of Kazakhstan doesn’t say: “Gosh, I want to be advised on governance by Windrush or Firerush.” He says: “I want to be advised by Tony Blair.” ’
Such arrangements are not cheap to set up and operate, but, according to accountant Richard Murphy, f ounder of the London- based research group Tax Justice Network, Blair is willing to spend good money to keep his earnings hidden.
‘It is hard to find Blair in the set-up, even though he owns it,’ he says.
He also suspects that the reason Blair has so far declined to accept the peerage he is entitled to is that he would have to disclose his income to the House of Lords.
Mr Murphy points out that Blair has hidden his money behind an exceptionally arcane structure based on an obscure legal loophole — the little known partnership regulations set up in 1907 by the Campbell-Bannerman Liberal government.
This allows him to funnel his
money through partnerships and so- called nominee companies that are not obliged to reveal their owners or publish accounts.
Small glimpses inside this structure appear from time to time. Official accounts of one Windrush company show that in 2011 it paid just £315,000 in tax on an income of more than £12 million.
In that time, 26 staff were employed on a total wage bill of almost £2.3 million and there were large outgoings on private jet hire and hotel bills for overseas visits. There was also a substantial cash pile of £13 million.
OF ALL Blair’s activities, it is his role as Middle East envoy — and its relationship to his moneymaking — that raises most questions.
His appointment to the post was not straightforward and was driven by the Bush administration in Washington. According to a wellplaced source, the State Department was opposed to it, but Bush insisted, saying: ‘Blair sacrificed his political career for me.’
The envoy’s mandate was ‘to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood’.
Seven years later, despite his magnificent Jerusalem offices, armour-plated car and large staff, Blair would be a fantasist if he believed he had done a good job.
Peace in the Middle East looks further away than ever, and the envoy seems irrelevant to what is going on in the region. He says he spends about a week a month in the region, but all of our sources tell us the typical pattern of this week is that he arrives on a Monday evening and l eaves on Thursday morning. The distinguished Palestinian negotiator Dr Hanan Ashrawi told us: ‘He is part-time. He certainly doesn’t report to me once a month.’
Blair’s office would not give any indication of how much time he spends in the region. But it claimed journalists would not be aware of all his visits, so their estimates would not be reliable. It declined to offer its own estimate. However, there is little doubt that his predecessor in the job, James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank, spent much more time in the region. He told us that to do any good for the peace process, you have to put in a lot of time. ‘It is a full-time job and you cannot do that on a timetable of two or three days. You cannot do anything in a rushed manner in the Arab world.’
Those in the know say Wolfensohn was i n non- stop negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, shuttling between Gaza, Jerusalem and Ramallah. He got involved in nitty-gritty issues, such as organising openings at road crossings so there could be free movement of buses for the Arab population and goods between the West Bank and Gaza.
Blair, on the other hand, with his once-over-lightly, butterfly approach to diplomacy, prefers great geopolitical thinking and high-flown rhetoric rather than detailed on-the-ground negotiations.
The considered view is that in one of the most turbulent times for the Middle East, he has done little or nothing to bring Israel and Palestine together through economic and security co- operation, apart from occasionally turning up at the region’s most exotic hotel and consulting with a few local leaders and journalists.
There is a general perception that he uses the post of Middle East envoy to move on from tough and intractable discussions about the peace process to issues that advance his business interests.
Blair’s office claims he has pulled off real achievements — lifting checkpoints that severely restricted movement and securing an additional 10,000 permits for Palestinian labourers to work in Israel.
But he has also negotiated two deals in Gaza that benefit clients of his employer, J P Morgan.
Then there are Blair’s regular visits to Abu Dhabi as Middle East envoy. At the same time, Tony Blair Associates has been providing ‘global strategic advice’ to the Crown Prince’s sovereign wealth fund, which invests Abu Dhabi’s oil profits.
Some suspect Blair is even benefit- ing from the most controversial decision of his premiership — to go to war against Iraq.
His part in the demise of Saddam Hussein made him popular in Kuwait, where he has since made millions as an adviser to the Emir and where he has his own office in the Kuwaiti parliament buildings.
In January 2009, when Blair was in Kuwait under the aegis of his Middle East envoy role, he met the Emir.
What came out of the meeting from the point of view of peace in the Middle East, we do not know. We do know, however, that Tony Blair Associates picked up a lucrative consultancy contract in which his firm stands to earn £27 million.
Alex Brummer, the Mail’s City editor and a vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, suggests that Blair’s role as envoy is ‘no more than a ticket to making ever more millions’ and it ‘has been a godsend for his broader ambition of making as much money for Blair Inc as quickly as possible’.
He gets away with all his conflicting interests because no code of conduct applies to him.
If he were still an MP, worked for the World Bank or even directly for the United Nations, he would have to make a full disclosure of his commercial interests.
Some say that his commercial i nterests and his role as envoy overlap significantly.
‘In the morning, he is the big Middle East negotiator. In the afternoon, he’s the businessman trying to lubricate connections between big shots,’ writes American journalist Jacob Heilbrunn.
‘In essence, Blair has turned himself into a mini-corporation, cashing in on his former job.’
EXTRACTED from Blair Inc: The Man Behind The Mask by Francis Beckett, David Hencke and Nick Kochan, published by John Blake Publishing on March 19 at £20. To order a copy, tel: 0808 272 0808; or visit www.mailbookshop.co.uk (P&P free for a limited time).
‘Blair is cashing in on his former job as the PM’