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Tony Blair’s link with Iraq oil firm kept secret by watch-dog

tony_blairIn Washington this morning the big story is political reform of the healthcare system, whereas in London it is once again good –old fashioned political sleaze.

Channel 4′s Dispatches programme working with the Sunday Times have carried out a great political sting.

They set up a fake lobbying firm and approached various ex-Labour Ministers to see what they would offer in return for money.

Sometimes you have to really question the naivity or stupidity of politicians. Never mind the recent expenses scandal or Lords lobbying scandal, its seems our politicians have learnt nothing. 

Three senior ex-British Ministers, including Patricia Hewitt, Stephen Byers and Geoff Hoon, all showed they were willing to use their access and influence to lobby in return for cash.

“I’m a bit like a sort of cab for hire,” Stephen Byers told the fake lobbyists who even boasted that if there was a problem that needed fixing “we could have a word with Tony”.

Once again, the political scandal has shown that the rules that govern MPs in Westminster are wholly inadequate, especially when it comes to a “cooling off” period for ex-Ministers.

Up to two years after they leave office, ex-Ministers have to seek approval from ACOBA – the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

ACOBA is meant to make sure that ex-Ministers are basically not profiteering and exploiting their contacts for a lucrative job, exactly as Byers, Hewitt and Hoon seem to have been doing.

For a long time transparency campaigners have been arguing that ACOBA is a toothless regulator that has all too often failed to stop the revolving door which allows ex-Ministers to easily exploit their previous positions.

Meanwhile, lost amongst the political scandal gripping Westminster is yet another glaring failure of ACOBA’s.

It has now been revealed that Tony Blair landed a lucrative advisory job in a secret deal with an oil firm operating in Iraq.

The former Prime Minister took the contract with UI Energy two years ago – just 14 months after leaving No10, and yet ACOBA let Blair keep it secret because of “market sensitivities”.

The exact details of the lucrative deal are yet to be released but what is known is that South Korea-based UI Energy is one of the biggest investors in Iraq’s oil-rich Kurdistan.

A spokesman for Mr Blair said: “Mr Blair gave a one-off piece of advice in respect of a project for UI Energy in August 2008.”

So Blair seems to have personally financially profited from the Iraq war.

Labour’s political opponents are rightly outraged: Douglas Carswell, a backbench Tory MP who campaigns for political reform, said ‘This doesn’t just look bad, it stinks.” 

He added: “It seems that the former prime minister of the United Kingdom has been in the pay of a very big foreign oil corporation and we have been kept in the dark about it.”

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said: ‘I think many people will find it deeply insensitive that he is apparently cashing in on his contacts from the Iraq war to make money for himself.’

Its worth remembering that many of the critics of the war argued that this was a war for oil and had nothing to do with WMDs. In November 2002, Tony Blair appeared on Monte Carlo radio and said: “The idea that this is about oil is absurd”.

Years later we find out that Blair has kept secret a lucrative deal where he provided advice to an oil firm in Iraq. In many ways these revelations undermine ACONBA’s reputation far more than the Dispatches / Sunday Times sting, because ACOBA sanctioned the secrecy of the deal.

And Douglas Carsell is right: the whole thing stinks.

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