By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
For a man who, in his own words, is “not interested in money,” Tony Blair has an incredible knack of attracting it. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph last year he said that he was worth “less than a fifth” of upper estimates of £100 million (roughly $150 million).
Given the complexity of the former British premier’s global financial structures – involving 12 different entities, six in a structure called Windrush and another half-dozen in a parallel structure called Firerush, and a host of global jurisdictions – it’s next to impossible to prove him wrong.
Indeed, so opaque and mystifying were his finances that in 2009 The Guardian launched an open invitation to tax specialists and accountants to attempt to explain the motivation behind such structures. The competition winner worked out that the complex structure had been set up to enable Blair to effectively avoid having to publish company accounts detailing the millions flowing into his various commercial ventures since he stepped down from office in 2007.
Fast forward to today and Blair’s various business vehicles continue to attract millions of pounds from the former British PM’s diffuse global activities – activities that include advising countries of all stripes (in particular intensely resource-rich ones with despotic governments), consultancy work for US too-big-to-bail banking behemoth JP Morgan, and the ever lucrative international speaking circuit.
And still it’s impossible to know how much money Blair makes for himself, or how much he pays Her Majesty’s Government – or any other government – in taxes. How clean is the money he makes? Again, impossible to tell, though the preliminary signs are not good. Whose financial interests, apart from his own, does Blair serve today? More important still, to what extent was he already serving them during his earlier career as British prime minister?
Thanks to a recent investigative report by the Sunday Telegraph on Blair’s conflicts of interest in the consultancy work he performs for the Colombian government, these questions are once again getting some of the attention they deserve.
The Colombia-Abu Dhabi Connection
Now that Blair is out of front-line British politics, it isn’t often that we get to see just who he works for now. On the rare occasions his clients do emerge, they’re often unsavory, including regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan – all, of course, immensely rich in mineral deposits.
So, too, is Colombia, whose government receives advice from Blair’s consultancy firm, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), on how to spend the roughly £2 billion it earns annually from mining deals. The Colombian government, however, does not pay any fees for Blair’s services. Instead, TBA’s services are paid for by Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund which bought a gold mine in Colombia two months ago and to whom Blair is a paid advisor.
Here’s more on this murky setup from The Telegraph:
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, a cross-party body campaigning for greater links with Arab countries, said: “This raises serious questions of a conflict of interest over Mr Blair’s roles as businessman and Middle East envoy.
“The UAE is supposed to be a leading donor government on the issue of Gaza and the West Bank, so what does Tony Blair put first, his role as Quartet envoy or his role as a businessman when dealing with them? What is the nature of all these contracts? There is still a lack of transparency about it.”
The contract has also prompted concern in Colombia over why UAE was funding Mr Blair’s advisory role in the country, with one senior prosecutor writing to the president demanding an inquiry.
According to Ernesto Macías, a senator for the Democratic Center party, although TBA is not being paid for its consultancy work from money out of the national budget, Blair is gleaning “privileged information to which contractors of his kind would normally be forbidden access.” He is also providing services to a government and business interests in a country where workers’ rights are constantly under attack and 105 trade unionists were killed in just the last 4 years.
Serving the Interests of High Finance
Colombia is not the only Latin America country on the receiving end of Tony Blair’s consultancy services. So, too, is Brazil where Blair signed a contract reportedly worth almost £4 million a year to advise the state government of Sao Paulo, the economic powerhouse behind the country’s fast-growing economy.
Another Blair client is Mexico, which Blair visited in October to attend a hush-hush sit-down between the country’s President, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Finance Minister, Luis Videgaray Caso, and JP Morgan Chase’s International Council, which includes Blair, Morgan Chase’s chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. According to Excelsior, one of the few national media outlets to cover the meeting, albeit in a miniscule two-paragraph press release, the banking behemoth showed a keen interest in the scope of the Mexican government’s recent energy, finance, education and tax reforms, “with a view to expanding its investments in the economy.”
During his trip to Mexico Blair also delivered a number of lectures full of platitudes for the government’s reform program, in particular its open-arms approach to the fracking industry. “Mexico is a place of great interest for the world,” he told a packed auditorium at Mexico City’s University of the Valley.
The question is whose world?
A Walking, Talking Conflict of Interest
When it comes to Tony Blair and his ilk (i.e. Western former heads of state with murky ties to very large corporate interests), one never really knows whose interests they are serving at any one time – even when they’re being paid out of the public purse and are supposed to be serving the public interest.
When Blair bowed out of politics in semi-disgrace in 2007, he walked into handsomely paid advisory positions at JP Morgan Chase (£2 million a year) and Swiss-based insurer Zurich International (an estimated £500,000 a year). In the latter role he officially serves as “an advisor on global warming” while unofficially opening doors and greasing wheels for the company. In 2012, Blair brokered a £50 billion merger between the Swiss-based mining company Xstrata and commodities trader Glencore from a suite at Claridge’s Hotel in London, for which he earned a cool £630,000 for just an hour’s work. Not bad for a man who is “not at all interested” in money.
Whether he’s lobbying for JP Morgan in Gadafi’s Libya, providing advice on good governance to Kazakhstan, a regime that is renowned for torturing and executing its opponents, or cashing in on his contacts from the controversial war in Iraq — while, of course, picking up his £70,000 pension for “serving” as British Prime Minister — Tony Blair is a deeply compromised individual. Wherever he goes around the world, he and the companies he serves tend to make lots of money, while taxpayers tend to take a big hit. A walking, talking conflict of interest, Blair is the perfect ambassador of a deeply rotten system of national and global governance. By Don Quijones, Raging Bull-Shit.
Such coddled and untouchable former political leaders rarely fall from grace. But occasionally, oh my! For Spain’s government, the timing could not be worse. Read… Former IMF President, Bank-Bailout-Fiasco President, and VP of Spain, Long Untouchable by the Law – Suddenly Gets Crushed