Blair took to Times Radio last month to respond to the campaign, claiming the vociferous opposition to his appointment to the Order of the Garter is “just what happens in politics”. As the former Labour MP and minister Chris Mullin wrote of Blair’s role in the calamitous invasion in Middle East Eye, however: “one has only to look into his eyes… to see that he is haunted by it. Iraq never goes away.”
Given the extent to which the spectre of Iraq looms over the former PM, one might assume the Blair family has had enough of Middle Eastern misadventures. Instead, as a barrister with one of the world’s most influential Rolodexes, Cherie Blair has followed in her husband’s footsteps by wading into regional quagmires of her own – and one of her most prominent Mideast cases, that of a former executive at the logistics company Kuwait and Gulf Link (KGL), has recently taken a turn for the unexpected.
Friend and foe to Gulf emirs
Soon after her husband left Downing Street, Cherie Blair used her connection to Hillary Clinton on behalf of Qatar’s then-crown prince Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani and his mother, Sheikha Mosah, securing meetings for the Qatari royals with Clinton in 2009 and 2010. Details of those interventions did not emerge until 2015, when Clinton’s emails from her time as Secretary of State were released to the public.
More recently, Blair’s role with shadowy Israeli intelligence firm NSO put her back in the media spotlight. This past October, court documents revealed it had fallen to Blair, as ethics advisor to the now-blacklisted company, to inform Princess Haya in 2020 that her ex-husband Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum of Dubai had used NSO’s spyware to hack her devices and those of her legal team.
Perhaps Mrs. Blair’s most dramatic Middle Eastern intervention came on behalf of Marsha Lazareva, a Russian national jailed on charges of money laundering and embezzlement in Kuwait. As reported in 2019, Blair was a star member of the legal and PR team assembled around Lazareva, whose emergence as a cause célèbre raised eyebrows in Washington as well as in the Persian Gulf. Alongside Jack Straw, Blair lambasted the Kuwaiti courts’ handling of the Lazareva case, taking to Sky News to call for sanctions on the country – a UK ally.
While Blair, Straw, and the Russian businesswoman’s other prominent backers have gone quiet since 2020, recent developments in Kuwait make clear her former company’s woes are only just beginning.
Controversy around KGLI
The trouble began in November 2017 when, as chief executive of KGL Investment (KGLI), Lazareva was accused of overseeing an embezzlement scheme worth hundreds of millions of dollars and involving the Cayman-based Port Fund.
Set up with money from Kuwaiti state investors including the Kuwait Ports Authority (KPA) and the Public Institution for Social Security (PIFSS), the Port Fund transferred $496 million from an asset sale in the Philippines into bank accounts at Dubai, only to have those funds blocked when Kuwaiti investors demanded an explanation for the discrepancy between the reported value of the sale and the sum Lazareva claimed it netted.
By the time the dust had settled, Lazareva and her associate Saeed Dashti had been sentenced to both jail time and heavy fines. In recent litigation in the Caymans, the KPA and the PIFSS claim that over $100 million were misappropriated from the Port Fund, with some of that money allegedly being used to pay for the lobbying campaign that drew in big names like Cherie Blair.
While KGLI’s parent company claimed the two entities were no longer connected, testimony from former employees made clear just how closely the different parts of the KGL network of firms are connected. Behind the KGL family of companies is an actual family: Kuwait’s prominent Dashti clan.
Kicking off KGL’s collapse
Saeed Dashti’s brother Ali served as CEO of KGL Logistics, while another brother, Fuad, was a shareholder in both KGL and KGL Logistics and was arrested by US authorities in 2016 on suspicion of sending airplane components to Iran. The company has a history of alleged sanctions busting, including the creation of a “ghost structure” to continue a joint venture with Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL).
Following in his brothers’ footsteps, Ali Dashti is facing legal problems of his own. Last month, Ali was found guilty on charges of usurping government land used for servicing KGL’s contracts with the US military at Kuwait’s Mina Abdullah port zone. According to legal documents, KGL Logistics illegally procured more than one million square metres of government land with forged documents, which it used to execute its US contracts.
Ali, the company’s CEO, was convicted in absentia by the Kuwaiti Court of First Instance and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. KGL Logistics has faced additional consequences in the days since, including being de-listed from the Kuwait Stock Exchange.
As a key civilian supplier to US forces in the region since the 1990s, KGL’s legal troubles have evolved from headache to migraine for the US government, which awarded KGL a military supply contract worth almost $1.4 billion in 2018. Remarkably, the company continued to win Pentagon contracts even as KGL Logistics was being evicted from Mina Abdullah.
Granted, given the experience of most of those who were responsible for (and profited from) the conflagration that was the Iraq War, the fact KGL is suffering any consequences at all makes it the exception rather than the rule, at least in comparison to the Tony Blairs of the world.
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