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Tony Blair's Middle East envoy work secretly bankrolled by wealthy Arab state

By Edward Malnick. Source: The Telegraph August 13, 2017

Tony Blair's work as a Middle East envoy was secretly funded by a wealthy Arab state which also employed him as a paid adviser, leaked emails seen by the Telegraph reveal.

The United Arab Emirates quietly financed Mr Blair's London office while he also received millions in consultancy fees from the state and the sovereign wealth fund of its capital, Abu Dhabi.

A senior Foreign Office official acting as Mr Blair's chief of staff in his role as Quartet envoy was also used for assignments connected to his private consultancy empire.

The disclosures will raise serious questions over potential conflicts of interest between Mr Blair's public and private work.

He has always insisted that his public and private work was kept entirely separate, and has denied that Quartet staff were involved in "commercial work".

However, following questions by this newspaper Mr Blair has now been forced to admit that he received money from the UAE into the same company to bankroll both his role as the unpaid official envoy to the Middle East - and private consultancy work funded by the Gulf state.

The UAE's contributions to Mr Blair's Quartet work were never disclosed on the website of the Office of the Quartet Representative despite a "funding" page declaring other sources of income, including from the US, Canadian and UK governments.

Tony Blair with Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, outside Downing Street Credit: Eddie Mulholland/Telegraph

Emails seen by the Telegraph show that just over a year after Mr Blair left Downing Street and became Quartet representative, Nick Banner, his chief of staff in the envoy role, travelled to UAE to meet Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the chief executive of Mubadala, the sovereign wealth fund for which Mr Blair began paid advisory work the following year.

Mr Blair's office declined to explain the purpose of the meeting with Mr Al Mubarak, who also chairs the Abu Dhabi government's Executive Affairs Authority.

The following month, Mr Banner, a Whitehall official on loan from the Foreign Office, was tasked with arranging talks between UI Energy, a Korean oil company the former prime minister was being paid to advise, and the head of a state-run investment firm in Abu Dhabi.

Mr Blair's work for the Korean firm was not publicly disclosed for another two years, because he repeatedly told Whitehall\u2019s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments that the company was concerned about "market sensitivities".

The emails show how ahead of Mr Banner's involvement, Mr Blair had secured the backing of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE foreign minister, in bringing the UAE figures to the table in August 2008.

During his time as Quartet representative he held numerous official meetings with Sheikh Abdullah in his envoy role.

In an email dated August 7, shortly after a delegation from UI landed in Abu Dhabi, Mr Banner wrote to a senior UAE official: "Below are details of the UI group. They're very keen to meet the most senior management of IPIC [The International Petroleum Investment Company], to try to resolve the differences that appear to have risen, for understandable but I think mistaken reasons.

"Given there seems to be a mutually beneficial outcome available, Mr Blair is very grateful that Sheikh Abdullah undertook to ensure their meetings could take place."

One of the key figures in Abu Dhabi from the Korean side was Kyu Sun Choi, UI's chief executive, who, it later emerged, had earlier served a two-year prison sentence for bribery.

Mr Banner's assistance for UI Energy is particularly surprising given that as recently as 2015, the year he stepped down as envoy, Mr Blair's office said in a statement that his Quartet staff were "never involved in commercial work".

The following year, in 2009, Rebecca Guthrie, a Foreign Office official seconded to Mr Blair's Quartet office, sent bank details for Windrush Ventures, the company which channelled money for his commercial advisory work, to a UAE official, days after formal Middle East talks he held with Sheikh Abdullah at the United Nations in New York.

In a separate email, sent in 2010, Jason Searancke, the financial controller of Tony Blair Associates, the umbrella organisation for Mr Blair's commercial work, emailed UAE officials seeking money for Mr Blair's "activities as the Quartet representative".

The Telegraph has also seen details of a separate $2 million (£1.2 million) payment to Windrush from Sheikh Abdullah's office in 2011.

Separate invoices suggest that Windush received at least $12 million (£8m) from the UAE foreign ministry for consultancy work in Colombia, Vietnam and Mongolia, in addition to the millions he was paid by Mubadala.

A spokesman declined to say whether the payment requested by Ms Guthrie, or the one received from the foreign minister's office in 2011, related to commercial or Quartet work.

However, she confirmed that UAE "contributed to the costs of Mr Blair and his London based staff for the work he and they did for the Quartet role", adding that "the Windrush account was used simply for accounting purposes".

The Quartet comprises the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia. According to the Office of the Quartet website, funding was channelled through the United Nations Development Programme, and declared on the site.

Nine donors, including the UK, are listed, but UAE is not among them.

Last night Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, a cross-party body which has called for greater transparency around Mr Blair's work, said today's disclosures appear to "blow out of the water" his insistence both that "there was no conflict of interest" between his roles.

This newspaper has previously revealed how in 2013 Mr Blair held talks with Lord Deighton, the then commercial secretary to the Treasury, on behalf of the UAE when it was attempting to secure deals in the UK worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Tonight a spokesman for Mr Blair insisted that he "never used his Quartet role to pursue business interests".

She said of the UAE funding: "None of this money went to Mr Blair personally. It was quite separate from the funding of the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem, which Mr Blair also raised from a range of different Governments. "All the money received was ring fenced for that specific purpose, audited and accounted for, and held in a dedicated bank account. The procedures for ensuring this were strict and adhered to completely. The funding for Mr Blair's Quartet work was a contribution to "the costs of Mr Blair and his London based staff for the work he and they did for the Quartet role, particularly travel." She added: "The story about conflicts of interest with his non Office of the Quartet Representative activities was always false. He did no commercial work connected with the Israeli/Palestinian issue. The contract with Mubadala was for work unconnected with the Quartet role as was the work for UI Energy briefly in 2008."

Last year Mr Blair announced that he was winding up Tony Blair Associates, his advisory firm, and the Windrush structure, in order to open a new non-profit institute focused on addressing the effects of globalisation.