Saturday 25 February 2017

Billionaire lifestyle denied by angry Blair

Dean Nelson in New Delhi

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair last night hit back at claims that he led a billionaire lifestyle and had profited out of his international role.

Mr Blair said he could make a lot more money than he did as he defended his "jet-set" life and strongly denied claims that he had used his role as a peace envoy in the Middle East to win private business contracts.

Mr Blair used an interview to declare that he had been upset by allegations that he had profited from mobile telephone and gas deals in the Palestinian territories, and that he had lobbied Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan government on behalf of the merchant bank JP Morgan, because they were "untrue" and "absurd".

His comments were made amid growing controversy over his "billionaire lifestyle" and alleged pro-Israel bias in his role as envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East -- in which he mediates on behalf of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

The 'Daily Telegraph' disclosed that his position as envoy was now in jeopardy as the Palestinian Liberation Organisation prepared a proposal to declare him persona non grata in the next few days.

In an interview broadcast on Wednesday on India's CNBC-TV18, he also defended his relationship with Rupert Murdoch and blamed the children of alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes for Britain's recent riots.

Mr Blair said recent allegations against him had been inspired by a left-wing media establishment that resented him for creating New Labour, and a right-wing establishment that hated him for winning three general elections.

"I probably spend two-thirds of my time on pro-bono activity. I probably spend the biggest single chunk of my time on the Middle East peace process, which I do unpaid," he said, adding that he raises money for his foundation to fight poverty in Africa and his India-based inter-faith foundation.

"I left office [in 2007] with two people and a mobile phone, I've now got about 150 people working for me. So if what I was interested in doing was making money I could make a lot more and have a very gentle and easy life. When you talk about a jet-set life, it means I spend a lot of time in jets, which is true," he said.

Desperate

He rejected claims that he had benefited from a deal to establish a second mobile telephone network in the Palestinian Authority, whose operator borrowed $2bn (€1.5bn) from the merchant bank JP Morgan, which employs Mr Blair as an adviser, or from a $6bn (€4.5bn) gas project in Gaza, where the operator British Gas is also linked to the bank.

"This is absolutely untrue ... [The Palestinians] had one mobile telephone company and were desperate to introduce competition which would give them hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue," he said.

He defended his contacts with Gaddafi and said he had played a key role in persuading the former dictator to embrace the West.

"It's true I used to see Col Gaddafi after I left office, particularly for the first couple of years. I was very instrumental in bringing him in from the cold when he gave up his nuclear and chemical weapons, started co-operating in the fight against terrorism." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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