- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2010

British and European leaders are questioning Tony Blair’s role as Middle East peace envoy following reports about the former British prime minister’s business links to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and the Middle East.

Some have criticized Mr. Blair’s past consulting deals in the Middle East, such as with Kuwait, and with the South Korean oil company UI Energy Corp., as cashing in on his connections as prime minister.

And two recent articles in London’s Daily Mail and the Telegraph have suggested Mr. Blair has business interests in Libya, indirectly linking him to a tourism company with multimillion-dollar deals in Tripoli and to the Gadhafi regime.

While these reports have not been substantiated, they are enough to cause some disquiet among members of the European Parliament, according to Scottish member Struan Stevenson.

Mr. Blair “has certainly been riding two horses,” Mr. Stevenson said, mentioning his role as peace envoy and his business-advising deals, including those with Tesco and JPMorgan. “And he’s earning a lot in the meantime.”

According to published reports, Mr. Blair has amassed a fortune of $30 million since leaving office in 2007.

Kate Hoey, a member of the British Parliament for Mr. Blair’s Labor Party, also has noticed the recent articles and voiced concern over Mr. Blair’s role as Middle East peace envoy on Sunday.

“It does raise the question why we are still paying my previous leader, Tony Blair, to be some kind of peace envoy, because I’m not quite sure what he’s doing,” Ms. Hoey said, according to the London Express.

Ciaran Ward, Mr. Blair’s media manager, said the former prime minister “does not have any role, either formal or informal, paid or unpaid, with the Libyan Investment Authority or the government of Libya.”

Still, several Libyan activists, when told about Mr. Blair’s possible links to Libya, said they were not surprised, adding that Mr. Blair’s personal visits to the Gadhafis are well-known among them.

Youssef Sawani, executive director of the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, said Col. Gadhafi “talks regularly to Blair as a friend,” adding that Col. Gadhafi “consults [Mr. Blair] on many issues.”

However, he insisted “there are no commercial interests for Blair with Libya or any Libyan government agency.”

Hafed Al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American activist, said he thinks Mr. Blair could have dealings in Libya.

But he and other Libyan activists could only point to anecdotal evidence.

Mr. Stevenson, as president of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq, said the rumors are enough to make him suspicious of Mr. Blair’s motivations in the Middle East.

“His position as peace envoy is critical, and these allegations undermine the credibility he has in that position,” he said.

Mr. Blair had no comment on reports about his visits to Libya since 2007.

• Michelle Phillips can be reached at mphillips@washingtontimes.com.

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