Tony Blair courted Chinese leaders for Saudi prince’s oil firm

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 during the Chinese New Year 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 wrries 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.

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