Toe-curling video shows how 'Sir' Tony sucked up to despot

Toe-curling video shows how ‘Sir’ Tony sucked up to murderous despot Nursultan Nazarbayev in return for £5.3million a year

To become a Knight of the Garter, Tony Blair must kneel before the Queen in a ceremonial habit and swear a ‘loyal oath’ while a piece of blue velvet embroidered with gold is fastened to his left leg, just below the knee.

The ceremony at Windsor Castle, scheduled for the second Monday in June, will be followed by a procession in which members of the noble order wear ornate gowns covered in golden tassels and bearing a sparkling St George’s Cross, plus large black hats topped with a plume of giant white ostrich feathers.

It is part of a royal tradition dating back to the 14th century, which involves a large number of Beefeaters, trumpeters and horse-drawn carriages.

Yet Her Majesty won’t be the first head of state to whom ‘Sir’ Tony has genuflected in surreal circumstances.

Back in 2012, our former Prime Minister made an extraordinary appearance in an hour-long documentary called In The Stirrups Of Time, which was produced by the government of Kazakhstan to celebrate its president’s 20th year in office.

Back in 2012, our former Prime Minister made an extraordinary appearance in an hour-long documentary called In The Stirrups Of Time, which was produced by the government of Kazakhstan to celebrate its president’s 20th year in office

The film resembled Soviet-era propaganda. It opens with shots of horses galloping across the steppe, overlaid with harp and piano music, plus endless pictures of the country’s Glorious Leader walking through cornfields, saluting soldiers, hugging peasants, touching the hands of crowds of supporters and standing at sunrise next to Kazakh landmarks.

After two minutes, it cuts to an ornate room in which Tony Blair is sitting next to a fireplace wearing a suit, tie and his multimillionaire’s year-round suntan.

He rattles on about the wonders of Kazakhstan, an ‘almost unique’ country full of ‘really smart people’ who are ‘capable, very determined and very proud of their country’.

Later in the film, after more Kim Jong Un-style PR shots of the president, Blair crops up again to endorse Kazakhstan’s government, boasting: ‘Rather like the leadership in a country like Singapore, they actually decided they were going to take the country, move it forward . . . and they did it!’

Pictured: Violence in western Kazakhstan this week after protests were sparked by rising fuel prices 

In a third appearance, he earnestly waxes lyrical about the ‘extraordinary economic potential’ that had allegedly turned the country into ‘an important player in the world’ with the ability to become ‘a real bastion of stability and progress’.

To the casual viewer, this clunky exercise in PR — which has cropped up in an obscure corner of YouTube — might these days seem vaguely comic.

Yet the film Mr Blair chose to star in was actually something far more sinister: a cynical exercise by its president in the very ugliest brand of political propaganda.

Why? Because the president of Kazakhstan whose time in office it sought to celebrate was Nursultan Nazarbayev, a despotic former communist who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1990 until 2019, when he installed a pal as ‘puppet’ leader.

Nazarbayev’s regime was famed (and feared) for murdering and imprisoning opponents, shutting down opposition news outlets and siphoning billions of his large and resource-rich nation’s assets to a dodgy network of cronies and family members.

Nazarbayev’s regime was famed (and feared) for murdering and imprisoning opponents, shutting down opposition news outlets and siphoning billions of his large and resource-rich nation’s assets to a dodgy network of cronies and family members

Like all good despots, he simultaneously enjoyed a life of almost unimaginable luxury.

On one occasion — coincidentally just after In The Stirrups Of Time was released — Nazarbayev chose to pay rapper Kanye West more than £2 million to perform at his grandson’s wedding.

At the time, the average annual income of a Kazakh citizen was about £5,000.

The U.S. State Department has accused him of ‘pervasive corruption, torture, restrictions on freedom of speech, arbitrary arrest and discrimination and violence against women’.

And his malign influence continues to this day, for, before retiring, the notorious autocrat installed loyalists and relatives in all the key offices of government. He is now chairman of the country’s security council.

On Thursday, as Russian troops were brought in to quell protests against Nazarbayev’s continued hold over Kazakhstan, the interior ministry boasted that dozens of opposition activists had been ‘liquidated’ and more than 2,000 had been arrested.

After a statue of the old despot was torn down, at least 30 pro-democracy campaigners were killed by police and 1,000 were injured. According to unconfirmed reports, the victims included a 12-year-old child.

On Thursday, as Russian troops were brought in to quell protests against Nazarbayev’s continued hold over Kazakhstan, the interior ministry boasted that dozens of opposition activists had been ‘liquidated’ and more than 2,000 had been arrested. Pictured: Blair and Nazarbayev outside Downing Street 

All of which raises an obvious question: why did a statesman of Tony Blair’s standing agree to give the appearance of helping to launder the reputation of this vile dictator? What possessed a former Labour Prime Minister to front a propaganda film for a famously murderous and corrupt regime?

The most likely answer is quite simple: money.

From 2011 until 2015, our former PM worked as a consultant to the notorious despot, offering ‘leader to leader’ advice and helping to present his autocracy as a ‘remarkable success story’ to the world.

In return, Mr Blair’s companies were paid tens of millions of pounds. And this tawdry arrangement was just one of several such deals struck by Blair with a variety of countries and companies during a frantic nine-year period after he left Downing Street in 2007.

During that time, he gained an extraordinary notoriety for, in the words of one commentator, enriching himself in corners of the world that ‘appeared to have an aversion to democracy’.

It was not until 2016 that he gave up the most contentious commercial work.

From 2011 until 2015, our former PM worked as a consultant to the notorious despot, offering ‘leader to leader’ advice and helping to present his autocracy as a ‘remarkable success story’ to the world

To be fair, Blair has since made some admirable contributions to public affairs, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. But baggage from that era still tarnishes his reputation.

Controversial former clients of what critics dubbed ‘Blair Inc’ can be found everywhere from Kuwait — where he earned £27 million over four years from advising its ruling monarchy on ‘good governance’ — to Azerbaijan, whose despotic leader Ilham Aliyev was famously likened by American diplomats to Sonny Corleone, the monstrous mobster in the Godfather films.

He also earned a shilling in such bastions of democracy as Mongolia, the United Arab Emirates and communist Vietnam, and in various other shady corners of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

In one of several morally questionable deals, the long-standing climate-change campaigner even agreed for his firm to be paid £41,000 a month to lobby for PetroSaudi International, a fossil fuel company founded by members of the Arab theocracy’s head-chopping Royal Family.

The arrangement also gave him a 2 per cent cut of any commercial deal he brokered.

The scale and nature of this globetrotting dash for cash was unprecedented among former British Prime Ministers.

While some of Blair’s predecessors had certainly signed up for the occasional speaking gig and corporate consultancy to boost their coffers (in addition to taking an annual allowance which these days is up to £115,000 a year), no one else had previously sought to accumulate such spectacular wealth as Blair. 

Winston Churchill, to cite perhaps the most famous postwar example, remained in Parliament as an ordinary backbencher (on a backbencher’s salary) until a year before his death.

This might help to explain the Queen’s tardiness in inviting Mr Blair to join the Order of the Garter. She has made him wait for the honour for 13 years after leaving Downing Street.

His predecessor John Major had to wait for eight years, while Lady Thatcher got the call in just a few months.

Whatever Her Majesty’s reasons for this may be, Blair’s obsessive pursuit of wealth, sometimes from questionable sources, should surely now be regarded as Exhibit A in the case against his knighthood later this year.

This might help to explain the Queen’s tardiness in inviting Mr Blair to join the Order of the Garter. She has made him wait for the honour for 13 years after leaving Downing Street

While the online petition that had been signed this week by a million people — who believe the honour should be rescinded — cites ‘war crimes’ related to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it is arguable that Blair’s most malign legacy is actually the career he chose to pursue after leaving Downing Street.

Of course, Blair also did the corporate speeches typical of a former prime minister. For a while he was the world’s highest-paid public speaker, charging up to £300,000 a time.

He was also retained as an adviser to Zurich Financial Services and JP Morgan at a combined annual fee estimated at £3 million.

But in the main, his income came from giving advice to those rather murky presidents, sheikhs, dictators and politically connected companies.

The highly questionable nature of some of those commercial operations became crystal clear to me in 2016, when I was passed a dossier of papers sent by Blair’s lobbying firm, Tony Blair Associates, to the Kazakh government over the previous seven years.

The highly questionable nature of some of those commercial operations became crystal clear to me in 2016, when I was passed a dossier of papers sent by Blair’s lobbying firm, Tony Blair Associates, to the Kazakh government over the previous seven years

It included 30 emails and several business pitches detailing how Blair, who had originally forged a relationship with the despotic Nazarbayev while in office, demanded a fee of £5.3 million a year for his firm to work with the dodgy administration.

In return for the cash, he offered ‘private strategic advice’, promised to make at least four yearly visits to the country’s capital Astana (now renamed Nur-Sultan after the former president) to meet ‘decision makers’.

‘He will share his own experience, support problem-solving and discuss suggestions and recommendations,’ read one business pitch. Beyond that, Mr Blair will be available via phone and mail . . . and will be happy to meet with leading representatives of Kazakhstan in London.’

 It described the £5.3 million annual fee for this assistance as ‘a unique value proposition’.

Some of the more specific work Blair did for the despot was also detailed in the dossier. One leaked document contained a letter to Nazarbayev himself, offering PR advice in the aftermath of a 2011 incident in which his regime had killed 14 protesters in the industrial city of Zhanaozen.

Some of the more specific work Blair did for the despot was also detailed in the dossier. One leaked document contained a letter to Nazarbayev himself, offering PR advice in the aftermath of a 2011 incident in which his regime had killed 14 protesters in the industrial city of Zhanaozen

It advised him to give a speech to a Western audience arguing that ‘these events, tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress that Kazakhstan has made’.

A second leaked document revealed that Blair had, the following year, drafted a letter on behalf of Nazarbayev to Baroness Ashton, a New Labour crony turned EU commissioner, seeking help in ensuring that a lucrative ‘partnership and co-operation’ deal between Kazakhstan and the EU got through the European Parliament. 

Despite upset caused by the so-called Zhanaozen massacre, the ‘partnership’ deal was passed.

Can this work be defended?

Blair’s office insists it can, telling the Mail that his mission in Kazakhstan was designed to support a ‘change and reform’ programme that aimed to make the country more democratic.

They argue that at the time, the Nazarbayev regime were ‘staunch Western allies . . . and were reforming, which is what we were working upon. But we always made clear there should be eventual political reform’.

The spokesman also stresses that fees surrounding the project were paid to Blair’s company, rather than to him directly.

A second leaked document revealed that Blair had, the following year, drafted a letter on behalf of Nazarbayev to Baroness Ashton, a New Labour crony turned EU commissioner, seeking help in ensuring that a lucrative ‘partnership and co-operation’ deal between Kazakhstan and the EU got through the European Parliament

Nonetheless, the former PM took extensive steps to keep details of his commercial activities secret. Throughout the eight years of its existence, Tony Blair Associates stood at the head of a byzantine corporate structure that was deliberately created by financial advisers from the auditing company KPMG to render the former PM’s business activities almost entirely impenetrable.

Although money passed between different organisations in the network, the bizarre, opaque structure made it impossible for anyone to establish how much cash was contained in them — or where it ended up.

It also rendered it impossible for outsiders to establish who exactly was paying for Blair’s services. Tax expert Richard Murphy once described the enterprise as ‘close to the secrecy [Blair] would have achieved if he was outside the UK in a tax haven’.

The opacity of this edifice meant that, as public criticisms mounted, Blair felt comfortable in claiming that the extent of his wealth had been vastly exaggerated.

Back in 2014, he used a speech in London to allege that his net worth was less than £20 million.

Nonetheless, the former PM took extensive steps to keep details of his commercial activities secret. Throughout the eight years of its existence, Tony Blair Associates stood at the head of a byzantine corporate structure that was deliberately created by financial advisers from the auditing company KPMG to render the former PM’s business activities almost entirely impenetrable

‘I read that I am supposed to be worth £100 million,’ he declared. ‘Cherie is kind of asking where it is! I’m not worth a half of that, a third of that, a quarter of that, a fifth of that . . . I could go on!’

At the time, however, his property holdings alone were worth more than £30 million. Yet to this day, his office insists that the extent of his wealth has been hugely exaggerated, telling the Mail: ‘Reports claiming Mr Blair is worth £50 million, £60 million, etc, are hugely inflated. He has given away more than he is worth, including donating the proceeds from his autobiography to charity.’

But back in 2014, even old friends were beginning to publicly criticise some of Mr Blair’s career choices.

That summer, the historical novelist Robert Harris, a former confidante, gave an interview branding Blair ‘a man with a messiah complex who is obsessed with making money’.

No one knows exactly how much Tony Blair Associates poured into its boss’s private coffers. But it is likely that, by 2016, the former Prime Minister, who by then was in his early 60s (he is now 68) had made more cash than he could ever hope to spend.

Explaining the move, a friend told ITV’s political editor Robert Peston that Blair was fed up with being seen as a ‘money-grabber’ rather than a do-gooder and would probably now accept that he had embarked on a ‘mad grab . . . indecent haste to make money’ after leaving political office

In September that year, he duly announced that he would be shutting down the firm and its secretive associated companies, in order to concentrate on charity work. In future years, he promised, he would even start publishing their accounts.

Explaining the move, a friend told ITV’s political editor Robert Peston that Blair was fed up with being seen as a ‘money-grabber’ rather than a do-gooder and would probably now accept that he had embarked on a ‘mad grab . . . indecent haste to make money’ after leaving political office.

But he never quite cut his links with some of the world’s most dubious regimes.

In 2018, it emerged that his Institute for Global Change, the grandly titled non-profit organisation through which he now advises foreign governments, had quietly signed a £9 million deal to work with the government of Saudi Arabia.

A spokesman stressed that Blair was not personally profiting from the deal, saying the cash was used to ‘support our work in the Middle East fostering Arab-Israeli ties, as well as our work on governance in Africa and promoting religious co-existence’.

A spokesman stressed that Blair was not personally profiting from the deal, saying the cash was used to ‘support our work in the Middle East fostering Arab-Israeli ties, as well as our work on governance in Africa and promoting religious co-existence’

It was further promised that the work being done would be set out in his Institute’s forthcoming annual report.

But the document, when it was eventually published, devoted just 38 words to the subject of Saudi Arabia.

They read: ‘We work to support the change programme on Saudi Arabia. Tony Blair believes that the country’s modernisation programme is the single most important development in the Middle East in terms of governance and will be vital for peace.’

Shortly afterwards, the Blair-endorsed Saudi ‘modernisation programme’ hit a bump in the road, thanks to the brutal state-sponsored murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

It was, some might say, just another predictable atrocity committed by a free-spending client of Her Majesty the Queen’s latest Knight of the Garter.

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