The autocratic leader of oil rich Kazakhstan has recruited Tony Blair as an adviser, believing the former Prime Minister can help him win the Nobel Peace prize.
By Jason Lewis, Investigations Editor
9:00PM BST 29 Oct 2011
President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s decision to engage Mr Blair as an official adviser was motivated by his lifelong ambition of winning the award previously bestowed on The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, well-placed sources said.
The Kazakh regime, which has been heavily criticised for its human rights record, has also retained the services of Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street communications chief and Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair’s former chief of staff, in pursuit of the President’s dream.
The move will raise further questions about the activities of Mr Blair who since stepping down as Prime Minister has travelled the world mixing diplomatic missions and charitable works with secretive multi-million pound business deals.
Mr Blair claims he is not profiting from his links with Kazakhstan and until now his role, and the work of his former key Downing Street advisers, had been a mystery.
Both Mr Campbell and Mr Powell visited Astana, the nation’s newly built business and administrative capital, last March, weeks before the 71 year-old President was re-elected with 95 per cent of the vote amid accusations of “blatant ballot-box stuffing” from international observers.
The former Prime Minister has also reportedly established an office in the country.
But highly placed sources connected to Mr Nazarbayev said that the president hoped that his association with Mr Blair would enable him to secure a nomination for the Peace Prize next year to mark his 20 years in power.
The former Soviet state’s British Ambassador said “The former British Prime Minister acts as an adviser to the Government of Kazakhstan.”
He is relying on Mr Blair and his key advisers to help him show how he is reforming his country and also to emphasise the key strategic and intelligence role his country played in the during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He hopes they will help him highlight his role encouraging the United Nations general assembly to adopt August 29 as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests and his initiative to hold two international forums of world and traditional religions in Astana to foster mutual co-operation between faiths.
But others accuse him of human rights abuses. The country sits at number 105 in Transparency International’s league table of corruption and at 162 on the Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
Criticising the president in person is illegal under the Kazakh criminal code and international monitors say the police routinely torture suspects.
One human rights campaigner was jailed for four years after a traffic accident that was not apparently his fault.
Another critic was discovered dead with a gun by his side. An official inquiry said he had killed himself. He apparently shot himself twice in the chest before putting a third bullet into his head.
Last month Mr Nazarbeyez signed a new religion law which bans prayer rooms in state buildings and requires all missionaries to register with authorities every year.
The new law is aimed at stamping out Islamist militancy but it has been widely criticised.
Ambassador Kairat Abusseitov said: “The former Prime Minister brings years of experience and we have benefited significantly from his strategic vision and deep understanding of the global economy as well as effective government and international policy making.
“The project is supporting the reforms the Government is making aimed at furthering democracy, strengthening the rule of law and improving the economic environment in Kazakhstan.”
President Nazarbeyev would be a controversial choice to win the Nobel Prize which is awarded annually in Stockholm to the person who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
His country is ranked a lowly 105th, alongside Algeria, in the Transparency International corruption index and court cases in America have detailed millions of pounds of bribes he received through a series of oil deals with US firms.
The US State Department warns visitors to the country: “Kazakhstani security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.”
Another close associate of Mr Blair’s from his time in Downing Street, the former chairman of UK defence firm BAE Systems, Sir Richard Evans, is also thought to have played a role in establishing the relationship.
Sir Richard is now chairman of the Kazakh state holding company, Samruk which owns most of the major companies in the country, including the national rail and postal service, the state oil and gas company, the state uranium company, airline Air Astana, and numerous financial groups.
The President’s opponents have claimed in the High Court in London that he uses the fund advance his personal interests and political and economic power.
The group, which has around £50 billion worth of assets, was set up by presidential decree, and is headed by Mr Nazarbayev’s son-in-law Timur Kulibayev, who purchased Prince Andrew’s former marital home.
Last year it hired Lord Mandelson, architect of Mr Blair’s election victories, to give two speeches at its events.
At one of the conferences in Astana, in October last year, Lord Mandelson reportedly lavished praise on the Kazahk investment fund, saying: ‘I want to stress a special role [it] played as a saviour of the world economy.
“There are at least two British banks which owe their economic vitality to sovereign funds, including those from Kazakhstan.”
Mr Blair’s connections with the Emirate state of Abu Dhabi are also understood to have influenced Mr Nazarbeyez’s decision to seek his help.
Mr Blair is understood to be close to the Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, He has praised the country for the millions of pounds of help it has given to Palestinian community projects.
Sheikh Mohammed’s state investment fund, Mubadala, which has interests including oil exploration contracts in Libya and Kazakhstan, is said to have Mr Blair on its payroll.
At the same time President Nazarbayev has been building close links with the oil rich Gulf state. He is believed to have moved much of his personal wealth to banks in the country and the two nations are now linked by a regular direct flight.
The President has a close personal relationship with member of the Royal Family and there are also very close commercial ties between the two Muslim countries.
Sources in Astana say the President has given the Abu Dhabi royal family a 99-year lease on a huge hunting reserve in the south of Kazakhstan and the Arab leaders have reciprocated giving him a luxury home on an island off the Gulf coast.
President Nazarbeyev has also been a guest of honour at the Abu Dhabi grand prix.
He has already courted a number of international figures in an effort to improve his image. He has been notoriously linked to Prince Andrew, Britain’s former Special Representative on International Trade, who visited the nation six times in seven years.
The Prince is a close friend of Goga Ashkenazi, a glamourous member of Nazarbeyev’s inner circle who has a child with the president’s son-in-law Timur.
He is also said to have gone goose-hunting with the President and his former marital home at Sunninghill, Berks, was sold to another member of the regime’s elite for £15 million – £3 million more than it was worth – and then left to fall apart.
Mr Powell was due back in Astana in July and Mr Campbell last month, but both cancelled their five star hotel rooms at the last minute and it is unclear if either have returned to the country.
Former diplomat Mr Powell, who helped broker the Northern Ireland peace agreement, had, until recently, been working for Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, but has now given up his full time role to set up a charity, Inter Mediate, offering international “conflict resolution”.
The charity, which says it is seeking project funding from the Department of International Development, lists Kazakhstan as one of its areas of operation, but Mr Powell said his work for President Nazarbeyev is not part of his charitable activities.
Asked about his work for President Nazarbayev, Jonathan Powell said: “I’ve got nothing to say about that. I suggest you talk to Tony Blair’s office about that.
He said his involvement was “nothing to do with Inter Mediate” which he said “had no luck yet” in attempting to secure DFID funding.
A spokesman for Tony Blair said he was not involved with President Nazarbayev’s campaign for the Nobel Prize.
He said: “Tony Blair has helped put together a team of international advisors and consultants to set up an advisory group for the Kazakhs, with a team of people working on the ground.
“The work they are doing is excellent, sensible and supports the reforms they are making. The Kazakhs also engage with a number of other former European leaders.
“Tony Blair last visited Kazakhstan in May of this year to attend a conference. He is not personally making a profit directly or indirectly on this.”
He denied reports Mr Blair was being paid £13 million for his part in the project and that the deal had any connection to the Kazahk’s investment fund or its increased connections with Abu Dhabi.
Mr Campbell could not be contacted for comment.