Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair is closing down the controversial advisory firm which he set up after leaving office to concentrate on non-profit work.
Blair’s firm said in a statement Tuesday that the lawyer-turned-politician-turned-peace-envoy-cum-consultant “has formally announced to staff his decision to close Tony Blair Associates and wind up the Firerush and Windrush structures” (Firerush and Windrush are operating companies controlled by the TBA holding).
“It is time to take this to a new level,” Blair said, saying he wanted to gift the “substantial reserves” accumulated by TBA to not-for-profit work. The FT quoted company accounts figures stating reserves of 8.9 million pounds ($11.6 million) as of the end of last year. Blair has denied reports suggesting that he has earned much more than that through his advisory work, as well as suggestions that his private work compromised his largely unsuccessful work as peace envoy in the Middle East.
Blair said that he will “retain a small number of personal consultancies for my income”—including, according to the Financial Times, JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM)—but that the not-for-profit work would take up 80% of his time.
Blair has been roundly criticized for helping governments with poor human rights records burnish their image in the West, frequently leveraging contacts built up through the oil deals and military or geo-political maneuvers that peppered his career. Two of his most notorious clients were Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev, elected three times amid allegations of corruption, ballot-rigging and intimidation of his opponents up to and including torture; and Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been president of Kazakhstan since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, ruling in an increasingly authoritarian manner.
In 2012, Blair advised Nazarbayev on how to buff up his image after the president-for-life’s police massacred at least 14 protesting oil workers in the city of Zhanaozen (the workers put the number of deaths at over 70, with 500 more injured), who had been fired after striking for higher wages.
“These events, tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress that Kazakhstan has made,” Blair wrote at the time, above some carefully scripted paragraphs on how to present the massacre. “Dealing with it in the way I suggest, is the best way for the western media.”
Blair’s priority, in both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, was to shore up support for countries which had only recently escaped Russia’s orbit, and which had invited western oil companies in to develop their resources (BP Plc (BPAQF) and ExxonMobil Inc. (XOM) in Azerbaijan, Chevron (CVX) Royal Dutch Shell (RDSMY) and BG Group Plc in Kazakhstan).
Many of those companies had secured extremely favorable oil deals in the 1990s and early 2000s in the former Soviet Union, but had been largely squeezed out of them in a resurgent Russia under Vladimir Putin. Blair’s relations with Putin soured dramatically after the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, in London in 2006. An inquest in London last year ruled that Litvinenko had been murdered “probably” with Putin’s approval. The Kremlin denies any involvement.