Perhaps Tony Blair always had half an eye on lining his pockets once outside the confines of Downing Street. Or maybe it was simply that the commercial opportunities presented themselves as he criss-crossed the globe on one do-gooding philanthropic mission after another.
Whatever the truth, the reality is that eight years after leaving high office, business is booming for Mr Blair. His global consultancy offers investment and strategic advice to governments, corporations and billionaires. Mr Blair, although he denies it, is reckoned to be worth between £50 million and £100 million with several houses and a country estate among his assets.
The road to riches — make that the private jet flight to a fortune – began almost the moment he stepped out of the front door of Downing Street as prime minister for the last time in June 2007.
Within a month Mr Blair had flown to the United Arab Emirates for talks with senior officials and members of the royal family, in his then new and unpaid role as Middle East Quartet representative. His status as Middle East envoy – attempting to broker peace and encourage economic growth in Gaza and the West Bank – offered him access to some of the richest and most powerful sheikhs in the Gulf. Many of them he will have already known during his premiership.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of that first visit in July 2007 was a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. The sheikh even held an official dinner in Mr Blair’s honour.
Placed opposite his host, Mr Blair was flanked by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s foreign minister and the prince’s brother.
The trip was an official visit by the newly-appointed Quartet representative. But on subsequent trips Mr Blair held talks with the Crown Prince and his officials in a variety of capacities: as the Quartet envoy; as adviser to the US investment bank JP Morgan; and as head of his own consultancy, Tony Blair Associates (TBA).
The warm impression left by Mr Blair on his hosts was reflected in a public statement by Sheikh Abdullah which heaped praise on the former prime minister as being “enormously capable” of handling the Quartet role, “given his personal skills and abilities”. This was a man with whom Abu Dhabi would be only too happy to work closely.
Before long the relationship had developed a firm commercial strand. By mid-2009 and in just a few months after it was set up, TBA had landed a lucrative deal to advise Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala, with a portfolio worth more than £44 billion at its disposal.
Since then Mr Blair has become a firm favourite in Abu Dhabi, staying in a suite at the Emirates Palace, a lavish hotel set in 200 acres of gardens and decorated inside with gold and marble. Each of its suites come with service from a private butler 24 hours a day. The hotel even has a cash machine that dispenses not cash but gold bars.
During those trips he has developed a close friendship with the Crown Prince. The pair are said to enjoy a “chemistry”, not least over their mutual dislike of the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood. But, it can now be disclosed, that relationship has blossomed commercially too. The UAE appears to fund TBA consultancy deals in countries as diverse as Serbia in Europe, Vietnam and Mongolia in Asia, and Colombia in South America, paying for teams of Blair advisers on the ground as well as for expensive travel and hotel costs.
Mr Blair also has lucrative contracts in Kazakhstan, where he advises the country’s autocratic president, and other deals offering “good governance” advice in Brazil, Peru and Albania amongst others. Windrush Ventures Ltd, the adminstrative company he uses to run part of his business empire, has spent £57 million on staff salaries and expenses, including travel and accommodation, in four years.
Mr Blair, who lives the lifestyle of a billionaire flying in private jets, regularly visits his far-reaching empire. One of the private jets he prefers, with a standout black and gold livery, was dubbed Blair Force One after becoming a prize find for plane spotters.
Only last month, Mr Blair visited Hanoi holding meetings with a succession of senior figures including the Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung. The prime minister asked Mr Blair to use his “prestige and experience to invite more investors” to the country while looking forward “to greater co-operation between Tony Blair Associates and [its] Vietnamese partners”.
In Vietnam, Mr Blair’s team is working on a series of public-private partnership projects, the restructuring of state-owned firms and ways Vietnam can attract more foreign investment.
Mr Blair’s work in Mongolia began in mid 2013, just as the country struck it rich from a copper and gold mine in the Gobi desert. Mr Blair’s office has said his consultants were helping the Mongolian government to “deliver their reform programme”.
TBA has also set up a “delivery unit” in the Serbian government, in a country where Mr Blair was once despised for leading a bombing campaign against Belgrade.
TBA’s arrangement with UAE means Mr Blair can put teams of consultants on the ground and across the globe and not have to ask impoverished governments to fund them. Instead Abu Dhabi provides the funding – just as the Department for International Development in the UK funds foreign aid consultants and charities working in developing nations.
The motives of Abu Dhabi are not clear. But there has been speculation that having Mr Blair on the ground advising governments where the UAE has substantial investments helps ensure those investments are not squandered by poorly run governments.
Mr Blair, according to the contract he signed with Colombia and which has been obtained by The Telegraph, boasts of his ability in running Britain as evidence of his usefulness in helping Colombia to ensure money paid for mining licences was not wasted.
It may also have helped in securing the contract that Mr Blair is an old friend of Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian president. He and Mr Blair have known each other for years and even co-authored a book in 1999 on the Third Way, the political philosophy followed by Mr Santos after its adoption by Mr Blair.
In April 2011, Mr Santos had a gift of his own for Mr Blair. He presented him at the presidential palace with the Order of Boyacá, Colombia’s highest peacetime decoration, “as a sign of gratitude for all you have done and are doing for us”. Mr Blair at the time was acting as adviser to the president and supporting Mr Santos in the peace talks being conducted between the government and Farc rebels, in an attempt to end the longest-running civil war in the world.
Mr Blair’s friendships with both Colombia and the UAE – and with the president and crown prince – appear to have been cemented with the contract signed on Oct 22 2013.
Two of Mr Blair’s most senior aides flew to Bogota, Colombia’s capital, to sign the deal which would require a team of his consultants to monitor the redistribution of billions of pounds earned by Colombia from mining deals.
Mr Blair has described Colombia, Mongolia and Vietnam as “spoke projects” arising from the “hub” of his advisory work in Abu Dhabi. It is not clear how many more “spokes” he hopes to add.
Perhaps to allow for his ever increasing portfolio, Mr Blair is expected to announce in the coming weeks that he is relinquishing his role as Middle East peace envoy.
He denies any conflict of interest over his roles as businessman, philanthropist and peace envoy. But with little transparency, there is at least grounds for suspicion of some blurring around the lines.
The sums with which he has become associated are not insignificant. His work advising the Kuwaiti government, in a deal now expired, was worth up to £27 million – a figure described by his office as exaggerated. The fee from Kazakhstan is said to be worth as much as £13 million. Mr Blair is also paid £2 million a year acting as a senior adviser to JP Morgan, on top of earnings from speeches and other appearances.
Critics complain Mr Blair hasn’t done much for peace in the Middle East and in reality even for a man of Mr Blair’s talents, it was probably a task too far. Gaza and West Bank may have suffered terribly in the intervening years; Mr Blair’s bank balance has, however, gone from strength to strength.