Are Blair's numerous roles -- paid consultant to US bank JP Morgan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait and an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund -- in conflict with his role as Middle East peace envoy?
15 July 2012
TONY BLAIR has expanded his African empire, becoming adviser to the oil-rich state of South Sudan.
His charity, the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), now has offices in presidential departments across five African countries. His reach in Africa stretches into Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Liberia, Guinea and now the world’s newest country.
The deal between AGI and South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir was put formally in place last month. It followed a four-day visit to the country at the end of May by David Miliband. Mr Miliband, who was asked to go by Mr Blair, attended a seminar with South Sudan’s vice-president and ministers in the finance and oil and mining ministries on May 30 in the capital Juba, at which Chinese involvement in the country was discussed.
Mr Miliband was accompanied by David Brown, who worked for five years in the prime minister’s strategy unit under Mr Blair, and now heads up AGI’s South Sudan operation. In a briefing document, Mr Miliband was listed as a participant representing the Tony Blair Initiative for Africa.
Last week, Mr Miliband updated his parliamentary register of members’ interests to disclose that he had taken a donation of £4,995 for travel and accommodation paid for by the Africa Governance Initiative. On the register the visit is listed as “pro bono advice on organisation of government”.
The disclosure comes as Mr Blair is stepping up his return to British public life. Last week he was appointed Labour’s Olympic legacy adviser and he has made attempts in recent months to re-engage with the British public after five years spent largely outside the UK following his departure from Downing Street.
He is also increasing his involvement in China, where he has made friends with the head of the China Investment Corporation (CIC), a sovereign wealth fund with £265billion to invest.
The addition of South Sudan to Mr Blair’s portfolio gives him influence over the world’s newest nation state, which was officially recognised only 12 months ago following years of civil war in the region.
Almost all South Sudan’s revenue, about 98 per cent, is generated from oil reserves, but current production has been switched off because of an ongoing dispute with its northern neighbour Sudan over the costs of transporting oil in a pipeline out of the country.
Some forecasters suggest that the government in Juba will run out of money by October. The country is also beset by corruption. Mr Kiir has written to 75 officials, accusing them of stealing £2.6billion and asking them to pay it back. According to sources, Mr Blair and Mr Kiir have been in talks for some time about AGI taking up a role in the country. There is no suggestion that Mr Blair profits from his advisory roles in Africa, although he has had access to the private jet used by Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame.
Mr Blair does advise other foreign governments that do make money for another of his consultancies, Tony Blair Associates (TBA). TBA has an office in Kazakhstan and another in Kuwait, both oil and gas rich. One report suggests the deal with Kazakhstan is worth as much as £8.5million a year while the Financial Times put Mr Blair’s annual income at about £20million.
His numerous roles — he is a paid consultant to the US investment bank JP Morgan and an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, and a Middle East peace envoy — have opened up the former prime minister to accusations of conflicts of interest. He denies all such claims and insists his business and charitable interests — he also runs a global faith foundation — are kept separate.
Never the less, an analysis by The Sunday Telegraph shows that his interest in foreign travel remains as keen as ever. In the past two years, he has made at least 118 trips abroad. There may be many more that have not been reported.
One of his favoured destinations is China, which he visited at least 11 times in that period. It may be no coincidence that China has a long-standing interest in investment in Africa, where it has secured big construction and mining contracts and bought up large parcels of land.
On six occasions, Mr Blair has met representatives of CIC, usually its chairman and chief executive Lou Jiwei. According to Chinese reports, Mr Blair was asked to become a senior adviser to the Excellence Club, an elite group of business and political leaders based in Beijing, and given “an adviser’s cerificate made from crystal”.
Mr Blair denies receiving any money from CIC as well as reports suggesting that he was an official adviser to the company, or any connection to the Excellence Club.
At the seminar held in Juba and attended by Mr Miliband, discussions took place over the role of Chinese firms and the Beijing government in aiding South Sudan’s economic development.
The seminar discussed the merits of a “large deal” with China over the building of roads, an electricity grid and hydropower.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said: “Tony Blair does not advise South Sudan government on China investment...AGI does great work in Africa and is just starting in South Sudan.”
Mr Blair was unable to visit South Sudan at the time of the seminar due to other engagements. On May 25, he was in Astana in Kazakhstan delivering a lecture at the Nazarbayev University, named after the country’s autocratic ruler, and then on May 29 he appeared in Grand Rapids, Michigan, giving a speech to the annual economics club dinner. Mr Blair receives as much as £200,000 for each speaking engagement.
Twelve days later, after a holiday in the Maldives and a brief stop in Jerusalem, Mr Blair appeared on stage with Mr Lou at a conference hosted by JP Morgan in Beijing.
Shortly after Mr Miliband’s visit to South Sudan. AGI began “formally supporting” the government there. On the AGI website, the charity says: “The objective of our work is to strengthen the capacity of the new institutions at the centre of the government so they are better able to lead the country’s development. We hope that our work can help to deliver improvements to the people of South Sudan.”
A spokesman for Mr Miliband said: “AGI was already engaged in work in South Sudan before David Miliband’s visit. Safe travel and accommodation in South Sudan is expensive.”