At first blush, it seems Kazakhstan's strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev likes to keep business in the family. A daughter heads his party in the rubber-stamp parliament; his sons-in-law held various official positions and became fabulously wealthy. So why is it not surprising that Kazakhstan is paying the wife of Nazarbayev’s most distinguished advisor, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, hundreds of thousands of pounds for her legal services?
Citing an anonymous source, The Telegraph broke the story today. The paper describes Cherie Blair as known for her “ardent” defense of civil liberties and human rights. Kazakhstan is known for muzzling free speech and locking up critics. The contract with Mrs Blair’s law firm Omnia Strategy doesn’t concern those sensitive issues, however. Instead, the paper reports, Mrs Blair will review Kazakhstan’s “bilateral investment treaties.”
The first stage of the review, which was expected to take as little as three months, is worth £120,000 [$200,000], sources have told The Sunday Telegraph.
A second phase of the project is worth a further £200,000 to £250,000 for another three to four months’ work, it is understood. Omnia Strategy, which Mrs Blair set up in 2011, also has an option to complete a third stage of the legal project for the Ministry of Justice at a fee to be decided, according to the source.
Mrs Blair is understood normally to charge clients £1,150 an hour but will bill the Kazakh taxpayer at a reduced rate of £975 an hour if the Ministry of Justice, based in the capital Astana, continues to employ Omnia on the legal review into its third stage.
The deal with Omnia was agreed in February this year and work on the project is thought to have begun in March. The legal review is ongoing although Omnia is refusing to comment, citing client confidentiality.
There is no evidence that Tony Blair had any influence in helping his wife to win the lucrative contract. But critics of the former prime minister will inevitably be concerned over his apparent influence in Kazakhstan, an oil and gas-rich state larger than Western Europe.
Mr Blair has reportedly earned as much as £7 million ($11.5 million) annually since late 2011 advising Nazarbayev on governance. But it is unclear whether anyone in Astana is listening to him, or if he is being paid so handsomely just to pose for photographs with the aging autocrat. Last autumn Human Rights Watch called Blair “at best opportunistic and at worst indifferent towards people suffering abuses in the country.”