YPT: one-stop propaganda for tyrants

Young-Pioneer-Tours-LogoYesterday we started looking at Young Pioneer Tours, a firm that conducts tours to North Korea – and one of whose recent clients, an American college student named Otto Warmbier, was sentenced on March 16 to 15 years at hard labor for stealing a propaganda banner from his hotel in Pyongyang.

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Otto Wambier

You might think an American tourist in North Korea would know better than to commit even so minor an offense as stealing a propaganda banner from a hotel wall. After all, doesn’t everybody in the West know how monstrous the Kim regime is? The answer to this is that when you combine the ignorance about the world (and especially about Communism) that is common among young Westerners nowadays with the wall-to-wall B.S. on YPT’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Instagram account, all of which repeatedly insist that North Korea is a safe, fun country that loves tourists, it’s not hard to believe that Warmbier thought he was doing something innocuous.

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Rowan Beard and friends

Certainly YPT didn’t rush to take responsibility for Warmbier’s action. How exactly, you ask, did YPT respond to his sentencing? With the following statement,  posted online by YPT representative Rowan Beard:

Young Pioneer Tours are fully aware of the recent sentencing of Otto Warmbier that was announced by KCNA on Wednesday the 16th March 2016. This should be viewed in similar context of previous cases of Americans being sentenced in the DPRK. We are continuing to work closely with relevant authorities to ensure a speedy and satisfactory outcome for Mr Warmbier. Thus for obvious reasons we cannot currently make any comments related to what is an ongoing case.

Pretty lame. That awkward sentence about how Warmbier’s case “should be viewed in similar context of previous cases,” etc., comes off as a feeble attempt to absolve YPT of any responsibility. Otherwise, Beard’s statement isn’t really saying anything. One might have expected that a company with a greater sense of responsibility and/or more of a sense of shame at its relationship with such a regime would, say, decide to call off all tours to North Korea until Warmbier is released. But YPT, of course, made no such decision.

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Gareth Johnson, British founder of YPT, who on the firm’s website declares his “love for the people and culture of the DPRK”

James Kirkup of the Telegraph had a few choice things to say about YPT’s shameful stoogery. Noting that the firm’s site “makes North Korea [look] like just another delightful tourist destination,” with its “numerous photographs of young tourists having a jolly time around North Korea, marvelling at various monuments to the regime and giving (presumably ironic) salutes in the style of its soldiers,” Kirkup reminded readers that the people of North Korea “have seen every basic freedom and dignity stripped from them by the world’s worst and most oppressive regime….When it comes to human rights abuses, North Korea isn’t so much in a different league as a different planet.” Precisely. 

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YPT’s Shane Horan, of Ireland: “I’m passionate about travel to so called ‘rogue nations’ and changing people’s often incorrect perceptions of them”

Kirkup quoted a UN commission’s 2014 determination that “abuses in North Korea were without parallel in the contemporary world,” with prison camps housing some 200,000 regime opponents who experience “torture and abuse, starvation rations, and forced labor.” On one occasion, prison officials cooked an inmate’s baby and fed it to their dogs. North Korea, Kirkup concluded, isn’t a country; “it’s a prison camp and a torture chamber. Taking a tourist trip there means spectating on the murder and abuse of your fellow human beings, and putting hard currency into the hands of the people responsible for those crimes.”

Yep. But even in the midst of the Warmbier crisis, YPT has clung tenaciously to the line that North Korea isn’t as bad as you think. Just the other day, YPT retweeted an Al Jazeera video about three or four fake stories that have circulated recently about North Korea – the point obviously being to support the premise that the evils of Kim’s regime have been exaggerated.

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The king of fun

By the way, YPT also conducts tours of other tyrant-run countries, including China, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Turkmenistan, and it hasn’t stopped whitewashing those regimes, either. On March 10, YPT posted the following statement on its Facebook page: “A lot has already been said about Turkmenistan’s repressive nature, and cult of personality surrounding the leader. There’s more to the country than this.” On February 25, YPT posted on its blog an interview with an 86-year-old Red Army veteran that was pure propaganda, whitewashing Mao’s atrocities and attributing China’s recent economic success to Communism.

Despicable. How do these stooges find one another? And, having found one another and gone into such a disgusting business, how do they live with themselves?

North Korea, land of fun

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Otto Warmbier

On March 16, North Korea’s highest court sentenced a 21-year-old American tourist, University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio, to 15 years at hard labor. His crime? Stealing a propaganda banner from his hotel in Pyongyang. The U.S. State Department called the sentence “unduly harsh”; the White House called it politically motivated. Warmbier had come to the Hermit Kingdom for a five-day New Year’s Day group tour, and when he was at the Pyongyang airport about to leave the country, he was taken into custody. Charged with subversion, he was found guilty at a trial that lasted less than an hour. The prosecution demanded a life sentence, but Warmbier’s lawyer managed to bring the punishment down to 15 years. Reporting on the conviction, the North Korean news agency called Warmbier’s offense “serious” and described it as “a bid to impair the unity” of the North Korean people. In a public statement, Warmbier insisted he had been “used and manipulated…lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country.”

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YPL logo

How did Warmbier find his way into North Korea in the first place? He signed up for a tour package with a firm called Young Pioneer Tours (YPT), which arranges vacations for Westerners who want to visit Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship. What kind of outfit is YPT? We checked out its website. Featuring a cutesy-wootsie logo and written in a colloquial English plainly addressed to cool young backpacker types, it explains that the firm “started from humble beginnings as a group of expats living in China brought together by our love of being on the road.” The company’s founders “have tweaked and experimented with our tours to best fulfil what you guys out there are looking for, making a lot of new friends and having some interesting and bizarre experiences along the way.”

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A closed-circuit camera image of Warmbier stealing the propaganda banner

Well, Warmbier has certainly had an interesting and bizarre experience, though we’re sure this isn’t exactly what the stooges at YPT are talking about.

The YPT folks go on to brag about themselves. They have a “great reputation for awfully fun guides who bring out the travel bug in people while ensuring that everything runs smoothly.” They nurse a noble belief in “going out of your way to help others on the road, share experiences and make friends wherever you can,” and say that “this attitude…has opened doors to us that can’t be opened in other ways.”

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Mr. Fun

They also go out of their way to reassure us that North Korea isn’t anywhere near as bad as it’s cracked up to be. “How safe is it? Extremely safe! Despite what you may hear, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit. Tourism is very welcomed in North Korea, thus tourists are cherished and well taken care of. We have never felt suspicious or threatened at any time.” The last time we looked, this text hadn’t been removed from the YPT website, despite what happened to Warmbier.

To be sure, the YPT site warns against “having a debate with the guides.” Not because you might end up spending the rest of your life in prison at hard labor, but because “their beliefs are important to them” and should be respected. “Everyone has read or seen lots on North Korea,” the YPT sages tell us; “this is your opportunity to listen to the other side. If you’re quiet and listen you’ll be surprised just how much you can learn.”

Yes, shut up and listen to the propaganda. More about these appalling idiots tomorrow.

Cherie’s turn

Tony Blair will warn of the risks to Britain of falling to Europe's margins.
Tony Blair

Thanks to author Tom Bower, whose new book, Broken Promises, is packed with devastating revelations about the post-political career of Tony Blair, we now have a rich, full portrait of a man who turned his generation’s most successful career in British politics into a formula for a massive money grab. We’ve spent the last week examining some of the more egregious examples of Blair’s stoogery.

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Cherie Blair

But let’s not forget that behind every avaricious man is an equally money-grubbing woman. Well, sometimes, anyway. So it’s appropriate that one of the Daily Mail‘s illuminating excerpts from Bower’s book is devoted to Cherie Blair’s international cash-collecting activities. Bower notes that when first accused of having dealings with the government of Qatar, Blair denied it, because he naturally didn’t want to be tied in anyone’s mind to “a corrupt dictatorship that supported extremist Muslim groups, suppressed freedom of the Press and was accused of offering bribes to win the FIFA football World Cup in 2022.”

It’s true. Strictly speaking, as far as Bower has been able to determine, Tony Blair has had no dealings with Qatar. But his wife did. Since his retirement, their careers have been in remarkable parallel. When he left No. 10, she quit her barrister job, too; while he founded two charities, she started two charities of her own, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and the Africa Justice Foundation. He established Tony Blair Associates; she created Omnia Strategy, through which she worked as a “consultant” to governments in the Middle East and Africa. 

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Hillary Clinton

In her capacity as doyenne of Omnia, Cherie Blair collected a handsome sum from the wife of a Qatari sheik who wished to meet with Hillary Clinton, who at the time was the U.S. Secretary of State. After Cherie had pummeled Clinton with 19 e-mails, the former First Lady agreed to meet with Cherie’s Qatari client. Ka-ching! Cherie also made money off of the Albanian government. And Rwanda, too. In the case of Rwanda, the Blairs operated as an efficient tag team. Bower tells this charming anecdote about it:

Cherie had been due to meet the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who was widely accused of being a mass murderer, to discuss the creation of a justice ministry in his impoverished country.

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Paul Kagame

But she didn’t show up to their planned dinner in London. Instead she explained she had an “emergency.” “I can’t come,” she said, “but Tony says he’d happily join you.”

At the dinner, Blair set out his stall. “You are a man with a vision, a leader I’ve always admired,” he told Kagame. “Now you need advisers to show you how to run a government, and I’m your man.”

Kagame agreed to welcome Blair’s team. In return, he was also introduced to the international circuit of leaders’ conferences across America and in Davos, where Blair presented him as Africa’s “Mr Clean.”

No one mentioned the continuing massacre of Hutus in the neighbouring Congo by militia dispatched by Kagame….

Blair’s friend won the Rwanda election in 2010 – but the beheaded corpses of leaders of the small opposition party were found strewn about the countryside.

Blair ignored all this and hailed his protégé’s success.

Nor was Cherie out of the picture. Last year, when General Karenzi Karake, the head of Rwanda’s spy service, set foot on British soil, he was arrested on an international war-crimes warrant issued in Spain. Whom did he hire to fight extradition? Why, none other than Cherie, natch. With a straight face, she walked into a courtroom and described the repellent war criminal as a “hero.” Released on bail, he was let go on a legal technicality, whereupon he quickly flew back to Rwanda, and safety.

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Karenzi Karake

Cherie had earned her pay.

In a sentence that is a masterpiece of understatement, Bower sums up the former PM’s family business: “Today, with his tangled web of charity and private interests, Blair remains at the centre of a bewildering number of enterprises.” Yet amid all this bewilderment, there’s one fact that’s beyond doubt: almost a decade after Blair left office, he and his wife are truly rich. Bower reports that they’ve “spent more than £25 million on UK property alone.” Yet, like the Clintons, “Blair cannot resist seeking new deals.” More often than not, those deals involve ignominious Third World despots and hangers-on who amass fortunes on the backs of oppressed multitudes. Blair, who once promised to rid the planet of such leeches, is now getting his big, juicy cut of their purloined pies. Somewhere, Churchill is not smiling. 

Tony and Muammar: a rewarding friendship

BlairMiddleEast_1792762cThis week, we’ve been looking over some of the spectacular revelations contained in investigative reporter Tom Bower’s book Broken Promises, which was excerpted recently in the Daily Mail. The book’s subject is Tony Blair, and suffice it to say that Blair will never look the same again. Of course, from the very beginning there were those who saw through Blair’s slick image and smarmy rhetoric and recognized a cheap, sordid creep on the make; what’s important about Bower’s book is that he establishes incontrovertibly that this fellow whom many saw, back in the day, as the man who rescued the Labour Party and, in the process, Britain itself, is pretty much every abhorrent thing he was ever accused of being – and then some.

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Tom Bower

During the past near-decade, as Bower shows, Blair has had his sticky fingers in the pockets of pretty much every tinhorn developing-world dictator and dicey international zillionaire you can think of. But even in this sorry chronicle of covetousness, his relationship with Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi is a standout. Bower puts it very neatly: while to most Britons, Qaddafi was simply evil – the terrorist-in-chief who’d ordered the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 – Blair saw him as “an opportunity.” (But then again, is there anyone whom Blair hasn’t looked at without first wondering if he was beholding yet another opportunity?)

In 2004, after Qaddafi agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction in return for Western aid, Blair was quick to visit him in Tripoli. The tête-à-tête was a success – birds of a feather, etc. – and, to quote Bower, “the two remained in touch.” Two years later, when “an English judge refused to deport two Libyan dissidents back to Libya, where they faced an uncertain fate,” Prime Minister Blair took time out of his busy schedule to commisserate with his erstwhile terrorist buddy: “I am very disappointed at the court’s decision,” he wrote.

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Muammar Qaddafi

In 2007, only a few weeks before his resignation, Blair paid another visit to his desert buddy. The timing was no coincidence. Blair brought with him the chairman of BP and a top counterintelligence officer from MI6. Blair’s purpose, writes Bower, was “delicate”: he wanted to “placate” his pal “by promising the release from a Scottish jail of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan convicted for his involvement in the Lockerbie bombing.”

Blair, alas, wasn’t able to swing the mass murderer’s release. But the main question is: why would Blair want or need to “placate” Qaddafi? Plainly, because he’d already begun to transition into his post-prime ministerial career – a career in which, he perceived, with his splendid guile, his cozy ties to Qaddafi could prove profitable.

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Tim Collins

Sure enough, the next year Blair was back in Libya, introducing his chum the colonel to some folks from J.P. Morgan, who wanted a Libyan trade license. They got it. On yet another visit to Libya, Blair traveled on Qaddafi’s own jet, bringing with him an American billionaire, Tim Collins, who thought he was on a humanitarian mission. Once he and Blair were alone with Qaddafi, however, the dictator encouraged the billionaire to invest in a Libyan beach resort – and Blair, to Collins’s astonishment, metamorphosed before his eyes into a seedy salesman, urging him to buy in. “The former Prime Minister, Collins realised, was trying to earn a commission,” reports Bower. Collins was “outraged that he’d been brought to Libya under false pretences,” and later read Blair the riot act, telling him: “This guy Gaddafi is bat-s*** crazy. I’d rather go hungry than deal with a guy who’s a complete lunatic.” Collins “drove to the airport alone.”

An admirable response. For Blair, however, Qaddafi’s nuttiness was not a bug but a feature. Manifestly, he perceived Qaddafi’s lunacy as yet one more thing he could exploit to line his pockets. If there’s any sign of human character in evidence here, it’s the fact that at least he was loyal to the end to his vile comrade: when the Libyan people finally turned against their leader, Blair asked Prime Minister David Cameron to give Qaddafi safe haven. Cameron, to his credit, responded with a big, fat no, and Colonel Qaddafi was left to the mercy of the people he – and Blair – had exploited. Rebel militia killed him, put his corpse in a grocery freezer, then publicly displayed it for four days so that the victims of his oppression could know a taste of justice. There’s no reason to believe Blair owned the freezer and rented it out to the rebels, but there’s no reason not to believe it either. 

Tomorrow: Blair and Qatar.

Sleaze all the way down: Tony Blair

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Tony Blair

This week we’ve been pondering the sickening case of Tony Blair – who, upon stepping down from the job of U.K.’s head of government in 2007, was a not-so-young man in a very great hurry to accumulate the fortune he’d been fantasizing about during those ten underpaid years as (in his own words) “Britain’s most successful prime minister.” In a revelation-packed new bookBroken Vows – Tony Blair: The Tragedy of Power, which was recently excerpted in the Daily Mail, veteran investigative reporter Tom Bower maps out in detail Blair’s squalid road to riches. His tale of Blair’s shameless self-enrichment makes the history of the tirelessly acquisitive Clintons look like a children’s bedtime story.

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 23JAN13 - Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President of Nigeria speaks during the televised session 'De-risking Africa - Achieving Inclusive Prosperity' at the Annual Meeting 2013 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013. Copyright by World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo Remy Steinegger
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President of Nigeria

Yesterday, for example, we saw that Blair was quick to whitewash the crimes of Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev in exchange for a handful of shekels. But Nazarbayev is only one of Blair’s many thuggish paymasters. In 2010, Blair visited Nigeria, “ostensibly to offer the services of AGI and the Faith Foundation” – two of his “charities” – “to help reconcile the country’s Muslims and Christians.” What he ended up doing was performing an expert ego massage on Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, whom he persuaded to hire J.P. Morgan as manager of his nation’s sovereign wealth fund. Result: a big payday for both Blair and Morgan – which secured the lucrative job without having to make a competitive bid.

Blair’s links to some of the world’s most unfree governments and to many of its less than scrupulous global businesses are too complex to easily diagram. And there’s no apparent limit to the level of oiliness that he’s apparently able to summon up in order to grease the wheels of commerce between the two. In 2012, in exchange for a generous sum, Blair put together a meeting between the top honcho at Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trading house, and the prime minister of Qatar, the goal being to facilitate a business deal. “Although present at their hour-long meeting,” writes Bower, Blair “remained curiously silent,” leading the Glencore CEO to wonder whether “Blair’s huge fee had been a waste of money.”

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Tom Bower

Bower outlines deals so convoluted that they make one’s head spin. But never mind the details; what matters is the uniformly sleazy cast of characters, led by a host of disreputable but staggeringly flush sovereign wealth funds and a small army of cartoonishly rapacious presidents of African cesspools. When some corporation in the Persian Gulf that you’ve never heard of (but that’s swimming in money) decides to make an investment in some dodgy start-up in Indochina, the Balkans, west Africa, or South America, don’t be surprised if Blair’s right there in the middle of the whole ugly deal, scraping his 20 percent off the top.

And so it goes. As Bower writes, Blair

also popped up on the advisory panel that supervised the construction of British Petroleum’s £32 billion oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean. Oddly enough, he was also paid to advise the president of Azerbaijan. In addition, his services were called in when BP was seeking new oil concessions in Abu Dhabi.

The sheikh who employed Blair privately to work for his investment fund also happened to be the head of Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council. 

One wonders how Blair can keep track of it all himself. But we haven’t yet gotten around to his Big Kahuna: Muammar Qaddafi. Tune in tomorrow.

Tony Blair’s web of cash

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.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

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.

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Tom Bower

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.

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David Cameron

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. 

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Nursultan Nazarbayev

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.

Tony Blair’s dirty money

Tom Bower is an English investigative journalist who for more than three decades has been winning plaudits for his eye-opening books about such figures as war criminal Klaus Barbie, newspaper baron Robert Maxwell, business tycoon Richard Branson, and Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson. In 2003, he won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award for an exposé of corruption in English soccer.

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Tony Blair

Now (speaking of corruption) he’s published Broken Vows – Tony Blair: The Tragedy of Power, which tears back the curtain on the former British prime minister. Several excerpts from Bower’s book have been serialized in the Daily Mail, and they’re all of immense interest, probing Blair’s incompetent moves on education, health, and immigration, his missteps on Afghanistan and Iraq, his bellicose relationship with Gordon Brown, and much else. But three excerpts contained revelations about Blair the post-Downing Street wheeler-dealer – the useful stooge par excellence – that will be of special interest to readers of this website.

Bower takes us back to 2007, when Blair resigned from the top post and took up the role of Middle East envoy for the U.N., E.U., U.S., and Russia. Unfortunately, that position – however prestigious – was unpaid, and Blair, after living on a prime minister’s modest salary for a decade, was ready to be rich.

Very, very rich. 

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Bernard Arnault

He mentioned this desire to his former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell. Powell then spoke with a headhunter, Martin Armstrong. He, in turn, had a meeting with the CEO of J.P. Morgan, Jamie Dimon, who, meeting with Blair, offered him $100,000 to sit on the bank’s board. But Blair was insulted. $100,000? For an ex-PM? Hewanted more. Lots more. Forty times more. Specifically, he wanted “at least £3 million a year, a five-year contract as an adviser and a percentage of every contract he initiated.”

He got it. For whatever reason, Morgan agreed to give him pretty much everything he wanted. And that was just the start. He also got a £180,000-a-year stint as climate-change advisor to a Swiss insurance firm. Plus another “advisory” gig on the payroll of Bernard Arnault, the richest man in France. And yet another job “representing” – whatever that means – “a wealth fund based in Abu Dhabi.”

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Tarek El Aissami

While busying lining up these income-generating activities, Blair did something else: he set up (and hey, which one of us hasn’t, at one time or another?) a complex maze of limited-partnership shell companies through which to collect and channel cash from these and other paymasters – and to hide from authorities the true dimensions of the wealth he was now beginning to accumulate. This network of phony firms was, and is, no different from those set up by various crooks in places like Venezuela and Argentina whose hijinks we’ve recounted on this site over the past few months.

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Wilmer Ruperti

We’re talking about people like Tarek El Aissami, the thuggish governor of the Venezuelan state of Aragua, who, it will be remembered, lifts massive amounts of money from his state’s treasury and launders it through a vast network of shell companies, the chart of which, as we’ve noted, “looks more complex than the organization of the U.S. government itself.” And then there’s shipping magnate Wilmer Ruperti, who, in order to fool a Russian ship-rental enterprise into thinking it was chartering oil tankers to PDVSA, the Venezuelan national petroleum firm, set up a web of shell companies, to one of which he gave a name similar to PDVSA. Leasing a fleet of tankers from the Russian outfit, Ruperti then rented them to PDVSA at a profit. (And what does your dad do for a living?)

These are the kind of lowlife scum whose shabby stratagems Tony Blair, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, has plainly studied up and imitated. Following their example, he’s lined his pockets magnificently.

But as we’ll see tomorrow, his similarity to these useful stooges goes beyond the mere setting-up of fake front companies. Tune in.