Washington briefing: British media scandalized over ex-PM Blair’s paid Baku visit

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday December 12, 2009

Tony Blair in Baku. Daily Mail

Washington - Tony Blair, who was prime minister of Great Britain from 1997 to 2007, received nearly $150,000 to make a visit to Azerbaijan and deliver a speech there last month, British media reported.

During his trip, Mr. Blair visited with President Ilham Aliyev and gave to a 20-minute speech about a methanol-producing plant near Baku being built by a multimillionaire former Russian gas industry executive with business interests in Syria and Central Asia.

The Daily Mail quoted an opposition member of parliament condemning the visit. And the Independent and the Guardian pointed out that the chemical plant in question, when built, would have healthcare risks and contribute to emission of greenhouse gases, curbs on which the world environmental summit in Copenhagen discussed this week.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Mr. Blair has earned more than $20 million, including for paid appearances, since leaving the position of prime minister. A spokesperson for Mr. Blair said the visit was a "one-off engagement."

In the last several years, the Azerbaijani government and ruling elite have spent tens of millions of dollars to bring celebrities and politicians on paid junkets to Azerbaijan.

Mr. Blair's is only the second paid Azerbaijan visit booked through the Alexandria, Va.-based Washington Speakers' Bureau known to have led to a scandal.

Last February, Barack Obama's election campaign manager David Plouffe pledged to contribute the $50,000 he received for his Baku speech to pro-democracy groups in Azerbaijan, following media scrutiny in U.S.

As of press time it was unknown if Mr. Blair would end up donating any part of his Azerbaijan earnings to environmental causes.

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