Tony Blair obtained a “blessing” from Chinese leaders for a company owned by a Saudi prince to do business in China as part of an arrangement that paid the former UK prime minister’s firm £41,000 a month and a 2% commission on any multimillion-pound contracts he helped to secure.
A series of documents, seen by the Guardian, show how Blair courted some of the most influential Chinese political leaders in 2010 and then introduced them to the Saudi-owned company he worked with, PetroSaudi. The company was not allowed to divulge his role without permission, according to the contract.
The emails suggest PetroSaudi was told of fears that the City regulator was targeting Blair over concerns he was not just opening doors but arranging and advising on deals for investors – a regulated corporate function that he is not authorised to conduct.
Blair began lobbying for PetroSaudi, a London-based company co-owned by Prince Turki bin Abdullah – the son of Saudi Arabia’s then monarch – in the summer of 2010. By the end of the year, the emails show, the former prime minister had arranged a meeting between the chair of the China National Petroleum Corporation, one of the largest companies in the world, and PetroSaudi in Saudi Arabia.
During discussions over the proposed hiring of Blair in November 2010, PetroSaudi pressed for him to “help deliver transactions, not just make the intros”.
However, this did not prove possible. In email correspondence, PetroSaudi explained that Blair’s team could not arrange deals “as this could deem TB to be carrying out regulated activities. Certain people at FSA [the Financial Services Authority] are out to get him. In summary, TBA [Tony Blair Associates] has said TB will assist in delivering transactions but cannot have it on paper that this might be the case (which no doubt still causes potential problems with the FSA).”
The Guardian has seen no evidence that Blair acted improperly and there is nothing to suggest that PetroSaudi acted inappropriately.
By law, Blair is not allowed to arrange, administer or advise on investments – roles that, under the City’s regulations, only “approved” persons are allowed to conduct. Such individuals have to be deemed “fit and proper”, a process which could require applicants to be interviewed.
A spokesman for the former prime minister said “his role was made known to the regulators … and he has never undertaken any activity other than making introductions. He does not do ‘deals’.”
The disclosures could fuel criticism of Blair’s private business interests and raise questions about potential conflicts of interests when he was the Middle East peace envoy for the Quartet of the US, UN, EU and Russia.
Concerns have been raised that, since leaving office, he has created an opaque network of financial interests that stretch from the United Arab Emirates to Kazakhstan and America. Blair has built up a substantial business empire and his family is estimated to be worth £60m, a fortune partly built on the ownership of 10 houses and 27 flats.
By November 2010, PetroSaudi had hired Tony Blair Associates (TBA), the trading name of his two groups of firms: Firerush and Windrush. According to PetroSaudi’s executives, the fact that neither company had a disclosed link to Blair was a sticking point; the oil firm was cautious of paying large sums for the former prime minister’s services but not being able to “engage directly” with him.
However such worries were assuaged by Blair’s team, who revealed that he had a secret consultancy deal, set up six months after he left Westminster, with his companies that ensured he would be personally available to lobby if his firms were hired. “No other company we work with has this document,” wrote the TBA director, Varun Chandra, in November.
According to the contract signed in November 2010 between TBA and PetroSaudi, Blair would arrange introductions to high-ranking officials in China. The work was lucrative: Blair’s firm was to be paid $65,000 a month plus a “success fee equal to 2%” of any deal TBA introduced to PetroSaudi. In the period from September 2010 to February 2011 Petrosaudi paid $382,000 for TBA’s services.
Blair was also personally involved in landing the PetroSaudi account, holding a face-to-face meeting with the Saudi chief executive, Tarek Obaid, in the former prime minister’s Mayfair office in July 2010. After the meeting Blair’s executives wrote to the oil firm saying: “Tony has just been in China and informally sounded out a number of people” about possible deals.
In a series of emails in 2010, seen by the Guardian, directors from Blair’s office tout their influence with Beijing, noting they could “add value” by “identifying new relationships … in China with the senior political leadership”. In return, PetroSaudi said it could ultimately get any potential partners into “the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] and give them full access to our shareholders’ ability to win large government contracts”.
Among those lobbied by Blair were a Chinese vice-premier who now sits on the seven-man political cabinet that runs China, the heads of China’s giant oil companies and the country’s supreme economic council.
“The latter effectively ‘blessed’ your engagement with Chinese companies,” Chandra wrote in an email to PetroSaudi in September 2010.
The deal turned out to be mutually beneficial: PetroSaudi offered Blair access to Saudi royalty, including the king himself. At one point Blair’s company invited PetroSaudi to lunch with “Alan Duncan MP, currently UK international development minister but a former star crude trader … I think he’d have some interesting insights in respect of your near-term plans.”
In a statement, Blair’s spokesperson said: “As we have made clear many times before, there was no conflict between any commercial work and the work on the Palestinian economy and institutions which Tony Blair did in an unpaid ex officio role for the Quartet. The work Tony Blair Associates did for PetroSaudi International Ltd, which is based in the UK, was undertaken five years ago for a limited period of a few months and was completely unrelated to the Middle East.
“It is ludicrous to suggest that we would use PetroSaudi for anything related to Quartet work, and our contract with them clearly stipulated that this could not occur. Also, as we have said on previous occasions, neither TBA nor Mr Blair has arranged any meetings with any British minister for PetroSaudi or for any other clients.”
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