MIDDLE EAST

Tony Blair faces claims of conflict of interest in Middle East

Growing business deals and diplomacy don't mix, say critics who want him to quit as peace envoy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 12:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 9:12am
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Iraq's latest bloody crisis and its links to the 2003 war brought Tony Blair back into the headlines last week, along with calls for him to step down as a Middle East peace envoy.

And new evidence has emerged that his private business interests in the ever-volatile region are expanding. Aides confirmed he was considering opening an office in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

But a spokesman denied suggestions by a leading Arab economist that he was being considered for a job advising Oman on its long-term development, after his controversial £27 million (HK$344 million) consultancy project for the Kuwaiti government in recent years.

Retired diplomats and political enemies united to demand Blair be sacked as the envoy of the Quartet - the UN, US, Russia and EU - after achieving little to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace in seven years.

Blair's Middle Eastern activities cause some irritation in Whitehall, where officials say they are not always aware of what he is doing and exactly who he is representing in meetings abroad - even though he is routinely briefed by British embassies.

"He moves in mysterious ways," quipped one senior figure.

"The Blair organisation is like a sort of government with different departments doing different things,"a former employee said. "His office is run on Downing Street lines. It's like he's never not been PM."

Aides said the Abu Dhabi office would be used for managing projects in Kazakhstan and Romania. But it will give him a presence at the heart of a strategic region. Blair is close to the Abu Dhabi crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Rumours are circulating in London and Cairo of plans by Blair to advise President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammed Mursi.

Blair has visited Cairo twice this year in his Quartet role. Alastair Campbell, his former communications chief, has also visited, and said he met "officials and politicians" to discuss "perceptions in the international media about Egypt in respect of concerns that are obvious".

Blair's spokesman said: "Neither Mr Blair nor his organisations are making any money out of Egypt and there is no desire to do that."

But Blair has commissioned a "briefing document"on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Aides said it was for Blair's sole use.

But it has been noted that the UAE is running an energetic campaign highlighting the activities of the Brotherhood, which it says should not be allowed to operate in the UK.

Chris Doyle, of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said: "Tony Blair has to decide between his Quartet role as envoy to one of the most dangerous conflicts on the planet, his burgeoning media role in pushing for intervention in Iraq and Syria and his business interests across the globe including in the Middle East. These roles are incompatible and create a huge conflict of interest."

Talk of Blair's possible role in advising Sisi has provoked speculation and criticism. "He clearly is very experienced and has a tremendous amount of contacts," said Samir Radwan, a former Egyptian finance minster.

"But Tony Blair sometimes waffles. If he can abandon that, he can be effective. But whether his agenda will allow him to find a way out of the tension between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government, I don't know."