Yesterday we began looking at the post-prime ministerial life of Tony Blair, as chronicled in a new book (recently excerpted in the Daily Mail) by British investigative journalist Tom Bower. We saw that Blair, like some of the slimiest stooges in Venezuela and elsewhere, has come up with ingenious ways to generate income and has established his own elaborate network of front companies to hide the loot.
But that’s not all. Get this: he’s also set up a number of institutions, some explicitly designated as businesses and others as charities, but all of them apparently intended to rake in money from deep-pocketed tyrants and shady business types around the world. One of those institutions is Tony Blair Associates, a consulting firm that is frankly in the business of — well, business. Another is the Faith Foundation, a purported charity whose stated objective is to contribute to the healing of religious divisions around the world. Another is the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), another self-declared charity which is supposedly dedicated to helping governments from the Suez to the Cape of Good Hope to formulate and carry out economic development plans.
Massive amounts of dough pass through these institutions. All that mazuma should, of course, be kept separate from Blair’s own personal stash. But as with Bill and Hillary Clinton’s notorious foundation, the reality of Blair’s finances turns out to be a good deal messier than the cover story. Also like the Clintons, Blair is in the habit of collecting outsized sums for, um, delivering speeches; Bower cites, for example, “an address in Orlando, Florida, to the International Sanitary Supply Association — manufacturers of lavatory cleaners.” Quite clearly, Blair doesn’t lie awake at night worrying that he might be doing things beneath the dignity of a former British PM.
There’s more. Just as Blair is insufficiently careful about separating his personal cash from his charities’ funds, he’s not too meticulous about drawing a line between his current role as private citizen and his former role as British head of government. This often leads to wildly inappropriate situations. For instance, while making scads of money dispensing advice to other countries’ governments — advice that isn’t necessarily consistent with the interests of his own country — Blair still expects the British Embassy in each capital he visits “to provide him with a comprehensive security briefing and occasionally even overnight accommodation,” as if he were still in office.
At times he pushes it even further. Visiting one African country, allegedly on behalf of AGI, Blair asked for a private audience with the head of state because he claimed to have been asked to give the top man “a personal message…from David Cameron.” But he had no such message to deliver; he was there for no other reason than to drum up business for Tony Blair Associates. The head of state, quite appropriately, took offense at this cheesy bait and switch. Later, when confronted with this incident and asked whether he’d been “mixing charity and business,” Blair lied outright: Tony Blair Associates, he insisted, doesn’t do business in Africa, only in the Middle East and Asia.
On the contrary, Tony Blair Associates seems to be prepared to do business anywhere there is a euro, pound, buck, peso, or yen to be snagged. As Bower puts it, Blair has “concentrated on offering advice to sheikhs, presidents and dictators.” It seems plain enough from Bower’s accounts that Blair’s advice itself, to the extent that he actually bothers to proffer any, is next to worthless; if the world’s tinpot tyrants are nonetheless queuing up with wheelbarrows full of cash, it’s obvious that they’re greasing his palm in exchange for influence, for access. This is, after all, a guy who can get any head of state in the world, from President Obama on down, to come to the phone. So it was that the government of Kuwait paid him £20 million to “review the country’s economy.” The report he ultimately turned in was a piece of embarrassing, amateurish hackwork – a “lengthy repetition of Kuwait’s well- known problems, concluding with a series of impractical solutions,” that was “greeted with derision” and then buried by Kuwaiti authorities.
But for the authorities to whom Blair peddles his influence, no “advice,” it appears, is too worthless. And for Blair, in return, no client is too sleazy. He accepted a sizable sum to help the corrupt U.I. Energy of South Korea secure an oil contract. He took a hefty salary from another nefarious outfit, PetroSaudi, to make deals on its behalf with Chinese authorities. In 2011, he even went to work for the rotten-to-the-core Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose abuses of his subjects’ human rights didn’t keep Blair from recording “an hour-long video about Nazarbayev” in which he “repeatedly eulogis[ed]” the creep. Not only that, Blair “arranged for his old crony Alastair Campbell and former Downing Street spokesman Tim Allan to promote the despot.” When Nazarbayev asked Blair how, in a speech at Cambridge, he should address his security forces’ cold-blooded murder of 14 civilians, Blair suggested he take the angle that the massacre, tragic though it was, “should not obscure the enormous progress that Kazakhstan has made.”
Disgraceful. But Nazarbayev isn’t the only autocrat with blood on his hands who’s helped fatten Blair’s bank account. Far from it. More tomorrow.