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Stepping Down as Envoy, Tony Blair Likely to Keep Close Ties with Powerful in Gulf

While Blair's Quartet role was itself unpaid, the former British prime minister has amassed a vast fortune from business deals, many in the Gulf.
May 28, 2015, 11:55pm
Photo by KHALED ELFIQI/EPA

After a controversial eight-year stint as a peace envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair has stepped down from a role representing a Quartet of international powers after being lambasted for using the pro-bono position to advance multimillion-dollar business deals. But sources close to the former British prime-minister have said to British newspapers that he will continue working with "key-players" in the region including Gulf countries and Israel; where he has exceptionally close ties to powerful figures corporate and political figures.

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While the Quartet role was itself unpaid, the former British prime minister has amassed a vast fortune from business deals, many in the Gulf, during his time in the position, including a $43 million consultancy contract with Kuwaiti authorities to advise on political and economic matters.

In 2010 Blair — who twice flew in a private jet paid for by ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi after leaving office — also earned a reported $62,000 per month plus a 2 percent commission fee for a near-half year stint brokering deals between PetroSaudi, a company linked to Saudi royals, and senior Chinese officials.

Appointed as the Quartet envoy at the behest of then US President George W. Bush in 2007, just hours after he resigned from 10 Downing Street after serving as Britain's prime minister for more than a decade, Blair is now thought to be worth up to $153 million as a result of his business deals.

In an even murkier arrangement, Blair is also widely believed to be advising Serbian Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic, a former advisor to Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic, in a deal paid for by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) despite having led the call for a 78-day bombing campaign of the country's capital in 1999 while serving as Britain's prime minister.

The UAE has developed a close relationship with the Serbian authorities in recent years, pledging to invest billions in a waterfront project in Belgrade, while Vucic's government has granted citizenship to Mohammed Dahlan, a high-profile Palestinian figure living in exile in Abu Dhabi after being forced to leave West Bank by his arch-rival the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, but is rumored to be hoping to make political comeback.

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Related: Tony Blair Resigns from Middle East Envoy Position

The former British prime minister was also reported to have taken on an advisory role to Egyptian President Fattah el-Sisi as part of a Cairo-based UAE funded program, although his consultancy company Tony Blair Associates (TBA), an umbrella with multiple subsidiaries, denied that he was being paid for the work.

"The more business interests he [Blair] has in the Middle East, the greater the perception that there is a conflict of interest," Chris Doyle, Director of the Council for British-Arab Understanding, told VICE News. "In his business dealings with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and so on, one really has to wonder when he is dealing with them as Tony Blair Quartet envoy, or Tony Blair the businessman, or Tony Blair the philanthropist? It's really just inappropriate from start to finish."

Talking about Blair's alleged relationship with the Egyptian president, Doyle called it "particularly relevant" because the country was "party to the blockade of Gaza."

"Tony Blair's mandate is specifically to build up the Palestinian economy and institutions, can he do that whilst reportedly advising Sisi? It's very hard to see how that would work," he added.

Blair's employment across the Middle East, done in addition to his Quartet envoy position and other charitable work in the region and beyond, has enabled the former prime minister and his wife, Cheri, to build up a portfolio of lavish properties including a three-story $5.59 million central London house, a sprawling $8.81 million country manor in Buckinghamshire, and more then six apartments in the north of England.

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Upon the formal announcement of his departure, the Quartet thanked its former envoy for his "unwavering commitment to the peace process" and his "lasting commitment to promote economic growth and improve daily life in the West Bank and Gaza."

But senior Palestinian political figures have repeatedly slammed Blair's work for failing to make any real progress in stilted negotiations with Israel and criticized his short and infrequent visits to the region, or as an aide to Abbas once described him: "Useless, useless, useless."

The former Quartet peace envoy has also been scrutinized for his overly close relationship with Israeli politicians, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has recently been convicted to six years in jail for accepting bribes while in office.

Blair, who worked with Olmert while he was in office, recently acted as a character witness during his court hearing, saying that his relationship with the disgraced politician was based "on trust and friendship."

Following Blair's resignation Hanan Ashwari, a senior Palestinian official and negotiator, said that the former peace envoy had "shown bias toward the Israeli side" from the very start of his role. "He had no rules other than to sometimes listen to what Netanyahu had to say," she added.

In stark contrast, on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently re-elected for a fourth-term at the helm of the country, praised the "wisdom" of Blair and said that he had "made great efforts to advance stability."

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Meanwhile Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's former foreign minister and leader of the far-right Jewish Home party, called Blair a "true friend."

But, said Doyle, the fact "that he's being praised by the likes of Lieberman shows he certainly hasn't done anything to rock the boat in his role."

"His resignation is long overdue," he said. "He has never challenged the status quo, he has never rattled the cage. He has failed to speak out against the Gaza blockade and against the expansion of settlements."

Speaking of Blair's appointment to the Quartet post, Peter Oborne, associate editor of Spectator, who has written extensively on Britain's role in the Middle East, said that the former prime minister who has been vocal in expressing his anti-Muslim Brotherhood stance to the media as well as advocating for greater intervention in Syria and Iraq, should "never have been appointed to the role."

"He has a particular ideology, Tony Blair, which is anti-Brotherhood, biased towards Israel, and defends the Gulf dictatorships… Blair's quite demented… It was always entirely inappropriate for him to have this role with the Palestinians," he added.

While his consultancy company TBA has attempted to keep a tight-lid on his earnings and business dealings by getting all employees to sign a strict confidentiality agreement, Blair has also reportedly been linked to clients in numerous other countries with dubious records on transparency and human rights including Rwanda, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Peru and Columbia.