Robert Mendick - The Telegraph
Tony Blair made £12m in 2011 from dictators, despots and merchant bankers, but why is he so secretive about where he gets his money and why does he pay so little tax?
Since walking out of Downing Street in June 2007, Mr Blair, the most successful Prime Minister in Labour’s history, has struck a number of lucrative deals that have earned him millions of pounds.
Tony Blair is a burgeoning brand. He is an adviser, sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid, to foreign governments - and in some cases dictators; a hugely in demand, highly paid public speaker; an international business consultant; and a philanthropist with two charities in his name and another devoted to improving the plight of Africans.
He is also a Middle East peace envoy with an office in Jerusalem and author of a best-selling memoir, the proceeds of which he gave to charity.
Mr Blair is paid in the region of £3 million a year to advise both JP Morgan, the US investment bank, and also Zurich International, the global insurer based in Switzerland. On top of that he runs his own consultancy firm - Tony Blair Associates - which advises the oil and gas rich governments of Kuwait and Kazakhstan.
It is a confusing mix of business, politics and philanthropy that is administered by a complex system of companies, operating out of plush offices in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair in central London.
There are two parallel companies both with similar structures. One is called Windrush Ventures and another is called Firerush Ventures.
The structures are seemingly complex, consisting of a number of limited companies, limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and limited partnerships (LPs).
Windrush Ventures Limited is the management company that runs the Windrush Ventures Group. It is described in emails sent by Mr Blair’s staff as the “trading name” of The Office of Tony Blair.
Within the group there is - besides Windrush Ventures Limited - a Windrush Ventures No.1 Ltd, Windrush Ventures No.2 LLP and Windrush Ventures No.3 LP. The LP - because it is a liability partnership rather than a limited company - does not have any legal obligation to publish accounts. Firerush Ventures has a similar set up.
It is the publication of accounts, running to 22 pages, of Windrush Ventures Limited, which casts at least some light on the scale of Mr Blair’s income - and his corporate tax arrangements.
Lodged with Companies House on Dec 30, in the quiet period between Christmas and New Year, they are audited by KPMG and signed off by Catherine Rimmer, one of Windrush venture’s directors. Ms Rimmer, a former Downing Street aide, is officially Mr Blair’s strategic director. Incidentally, Windrush Venture’s highest paid director, presumed to be Ms Rimmer, earns £200,000, according to the accounts.
The accounts show that about £3 million of it went on office and staffing costs. What happens to the rest of it is not entirely clear. Windrush Ventures employs 26 people with a total wage bill of almost £2.3 million at an average salary of £88,000. It has office rental costs of £550,00 and a further £300,000 is spent on equipment. With a profit of £1 million - on which he pays tax of £315,000 - that leaves Windrush Ventures with about £8 million of “administrative expenses” unaccounted for. There is no obligation under company law to say what happens to that money.
The accounts also show that in the previous year, Windrush ventures received about £8.5 million and paid tax after expenses were deducted of £154,000. That means that in the past two years, Windrush ventures was paid £20 million for management services and paid a total of £470,000 in tax. There is no suggestion that the accounts are anything other than legitimate.
It is not clear what monies go through Windrush and what income is channelled through Firerush. Mr Blair is tight-lipped about the corporate structure - even going so far as to refusing to say why the companies are so named. There have been reports that Firerush is the structure set up to handle income from Tony Blair Associates, which if true - and on the scale of the Windrush accounts - would suggest the Blair Empire, including his charities, have incomes far beyond what anybody had realised. Firerush’s accounts have only partially been published and reveal little, although fuller accounts are anticipated later in the year.
As recently as September, Mr Blair protested that if he was really only interested in making money, he would not devote so much of his time to charitable causes and other unpaid activities.
“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 in an interview with an Indian television company. “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.”
In all, he reckoned he had 150 staff working for him in various guises across his charities and consultancies.
That interview was in response to a Sunday Telegraph investigation into Mr Blair’s friendship with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, whom he visited at least six times after leaving Downing Street. At least twice, Mr Blair flew to Libya on a private jet paid for by Gaddafi.
An email from JP Morgan, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, suggested one of those visits was linked to a multi-billion dollar loan deal the bank was trying to set up between the Libyans and a Russian oligarch - although Mr Blair has denied any knowledge of the deal.
Mr Blair’s is undoubtedly a jet set lifestyle. But there are home comforts too. In the UK, his property portfolio of seven homes is worth £14 million and includes a £4 million Georgian townhouse in central London and a country estate not far from Chequers.
In office, he was the labour’s most successful prime minister. Out of it, he appears to be doing even better.