NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Tony Blair, Chairman, European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation & Former Prime Minister, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, speaks at The 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
© Paul Morigi/Getty Images

The Tony Blair Institute, a non-profit organisation set up by the former UK prime minister, has confirmed that it has received donations from Saudi Arabia as the country carries out its modernisation programme.

The Saudi payment was mentioned in TBI’s first set of accounts published on Wednesday, alongside contributions from the US State Department, the Canadian government, some African governments and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation — a charity set up by a Ukrainian billionaire.

The Saudi donation comes from an organisation called Media Investment Limited (MIL), which is a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group, registered in Guernsey. SRMG had been chaired by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed al Farhan, now culture minister.

It was reported earlier this summer that MIL had given £9m to Mr Blair’s organisation. The amount given by MIL is not mentioned in the accounts, however. A spokesperson for TBI, who also did not confirm the amount, said the donation will instead be included in the 2018 accounts in a year’s time.

TBI said it was “committed to working for modernisation and reform” and that none of the money goes personally to the former British prime minister, who works for free.

TBI was set up in late 2016 after Mr Blair announced that he was wrapping up his controversial business empire in order to focus on philanthropy.

In the accounts, Mr Blair said he spends 80 per cent of his time on TBI. He also retains several lucrative business roles including chairing the JPMorgan International Council and the advisory panel to the Southern Gas Corridor pipeline. He also receives an irregular income from highly paid speaking engagements.

The spokesperson for TBI added that Mr Blair did not have any separate business relationship with the Saudi government or Mr Pinchuk.

Mr Pinchuk has hosted Mr Blair at his annual summit in Ukraine in previous years, and paid donations to his “Faith Foundation”.

The close relations between Mr Blair and the government in Riyadh are in contrast to his successor as Labour leader. Jeremy Corbyn has vowed that a future Labour government would halt arms supplies to Saudi Arabia because of its “colluding in what the United Nations say is evidence of war crimes” in Yemen.

Mr Blair won three general elections for the Labour party but is now largely reviled by grassroots members for his part-privatisation of some public services and his backing of the Iraq war.

He has also made several returns to the domestic political debate in recent months, urging the public to reconsider Brexit.

TBI now employs 221 staff in 30 countries and recorded $34.8m turnover in the 13 months to December 31, 2017.

Mr Blair personally contributed $8.8m of that income, involving the financial reserves from Tony Blair Associates, his former advisory firm, when it was wound up nearly two years ago.

In its accounts, the group acknowledged the “sensitive” nature of some of its work. “In essence we support the countries and leaders we believe to be reformers, who are trying to transform their countries or wider region for the betterment of their people,” it said.

TBI, which is entirely owned by Mr Blair, said on Wednesday that it had completed the “complex merger of institutions” first announced nearly two years ago, including the creation of a new London office.

It said its aim continued to be to “help make globalisation work for the many, not the few”.

The group’s work included partnership deals with 14 African governments — for example a “rural electrification strategy” in Rwanda — as well as research on religious extremism, a schools programme, training community leaders in anti-extremism and engaging with Israeli and Palestinian officials and leaders.

Mr Blair took up numerous roles after quitting as prime minister in 2007, including Middle East envoy for the UN for eight years. He also set up Tony Blair Associates to give “strategic advice” to a range of clients, which included oil companies as well as governments in Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

He announced in late 2016 that he would close that advisory firm, which was built on a complex structure of vehicles called “Firerush” and “Windrush”, and instead focus on philanthropic activities.

Mr Blair has been opaque about his personal wealth. Asked by the FT in 2014 about his lack of disclosure, he said: “I read I’m supposed to be worth £100m . . . Cherie is asking where it is,” he said, referring to his wife. “I’m not worth half of that, a third, a quarter, a fifth of that, I could go on.”

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