Tony Blair’s willingness to take millions of dollars in consultancy fees from some of the world’s most repressive regimes is inspired by an intense jealousy of Bill Clinton, according to the author of the first forensic account of his post-prime ministerial career.
For the past eight years, Blair has worked as a Middle East peace envoy representing the U.S., Europe, Russia, and the United Nations, but a book examining his approach to the role claims he only spends three days a month at his Jerusalem offices in between lucrative trips to undemocratic foreign capitals where he is able to command vast fees for dispensing advice. Blair’s oil-rich clients reportedly include the ruling families of Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, where freedom of speech is systematically repressed, and the president of Kazakhstan, where Human Rights Watch claims freedom of assembly, speech and religion are severely limited and torture is commonplace.
David Hencke, Britain’s 2012 political reporter of the year, who spent three years researching Blair Inc. alongside two co-authors, told The Daily Beast that a security source had divulged the extent of Blair’s Clinton-envy. “He’s quite upset that he’s never reached $100m a year or whatever Clinton brings in. Blair can’t compete with that,” Hencke said. “He’d love to be like that.”
Blair forged a close-relationship with Clinton after he was elected in 1997 to replace the far-less charismatic John Major. Clinton’s money-making prowess is unprecedented among political retirees and Blair is faced with a more hostile domestic audience, which regularly forces him to downplay and defend his wealth. “He does seem to be very jealous of Bill Clinton. Clinton is even more wealthy and isn’t challenged so much in America because in Britain people do tend to look at people’s wealth more critically than they would in America.”
Hostility back home may help to explain Blair’s apparent obsession with secrecy. The precise nature of his contracts is hidden within a web of companies that obscure the levels of income and expenditure. He refuses to answer any questions about his government advisory contracts. Reached by The Daily Beast, a spokeswoman declined to comment.
Hencke and his colleagues, with the help of experienced accountants, pored over all of the data that is publicly available. “The company structure is the most complex system you can possibly have, about eight companies all feeding into each other and some of them don’t have to declare accounts. His argument must be ‘I want my privacy,’ but frankly given the people who are paying him, the suspicion must be that it’s to cover up who is paying for all of this,” Hencke explained. “There seems to be this absolute drive to make as much money as they possibly can without really questioning the morality of who’s providing it.”
The authors estimate that Blair and his family are worth up to $90m, including a $37m property portfolio.
Blair’s role as Quartet representative in the Middle East is unsalaried but it also comes with no oversight, official scrutiny or rules about conflicting interests. The primary focus of his job description is to improve the economic well-being of the Palestinians, where necessary through negotiation with Israel.
An American businessman who was once close to the prime minister told Blair Inc.: “I have seen the whole Quartet thing not make progress; he doesn’t have much of a relationship with the Palestinians and yet he travels round the world as the Quartet Representative. My impression is that the Quartet thing is a calling card.”
Because accounts or itineraries are seldom published it is often unclear whether Blair is in a particular city for talks in his role as Middle East envoy or in a private business capacity. The authors of the book claim the two roles are often blurred.
Indeed, the book claims that Blair’s two biggest projects as Quartet representative were linked to a third of his careers. In 2008, he was appointed as a senior adviser to JP Morgan with a reported salary of $4million a year.
Blair succeeded in securing two big Palestinian infrastructure projects. One allowed gas-extraction off the coast of Gaza, another allowed the creation of a second Palestinian mobile phone network. Both of these deals benefited major clients of JP Morgan.
A letter addressed to Hillary Clinton written on Quartet-headed paper on September, 17 2009, was disclosed via a freedom of information request to the book’s authors. In it, Blair argues that allowing the Palestinians access to a second mobile phone operator would indirectly help bring peace to the region.
Hencke said the letter offered “a rare glimpse” at Blair’s work for the Quartet. “If that letter hadn’t been released we would not know that he was promoting that [deal] so heavily,” he said.
Blair says he did not know that the beneficiaries of these deals were clients of JP Morgan.
The Financial Times reported last week that Blair was poised to step back from his position with the Quartet eight years after George W. Bush requested his appointment. The report said Blair was in talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about continuing to work in an informal position, which would free him up for even more private work.
The prospects of Blair maintaining or even improving his Washington access look bright in 2016 with a Clinton and a Bush waiting in the wings. Even without their help, his reputation in the U.S. remains strong.
“Most of the business that Blair picks up is approved roughly by the Americans, they approve of the countries he is dealing with in the Middle East, they are quite pleased he is dealing with Kazakhstan, which is on the borders of Russia but inclined to be pro-Western,” Hencke said. “But you'll notice he has no connections with Russia. The Americans would be very upset if he was advising anyone connected to Putin.”
There are some lines Blair would never cross.