Sir Tony Blair’s institute has continued to advise and receive money from Saudi Arabia’s government since the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it has emerged.
The former prime minister’s organisation is involved in a multimillion-pound partnership to help a modernisation drive led by the Gulf state’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Sunday Times reported.
The prince, widely known as MBS, who is the country’s de facto leader, was accused of ordering the assassination of dissident Washington Post journalist Mr Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
He denied any involvement and blamed rogue agents.
Sir Tony’s spokesman confirmed to the Sunday Times the institute had continued its involvement in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a wide-ranging programme of economic reform aimed at boosting tourism and reducing reliance on oil, after Mr Khashoggi’s death.
According to a statement, “anxieties” were initially expressed internally as the institute considered how to proceed with the partnership, which started in 2017, following the killing.
But ultimately, Sir Tony was of the view that continued engagement was “justified” despite the “terrible crime,” the spokesperson said.
No staff or board member opposed the decision.
“The renewed engagement of the USA and Western nations with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman illustrates why this decision was correct,” a statement said.
Sunak invited crown prince to UK
It comes after the Financial Times reported Rishi Sunak invited the crown prince to the UK in the autumn. Downing Street declined to comment at the time.
A UK visit would show Western countries welcoming Prince Mohammed back into the diplomatic fold after he was cast out following the murder.
Britain is aiming to strengthen its ties with the kingdom despite concerns over its human rights record as it seeks to attract investment from the oil-rich Gulf following Brexit.
The FT said details of the trip have not yet been finalised, quoting an official saying: “It’s more up to them, given we need them more than they need us.”
PM did not discuss Khashoggi murder during meeting at summit
Mr Sunak met Prince Mohammed on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali last November, where they discussed social reforms and civil liberties but not the murder of Mr Khashoggi, No 10 said at the time.
US President Biden raised the subjects in his own talks over energy and security issues when he met the crown prince last year, suggesting he thought the Saudi leader was responsible for the killing.
A statement from Sir Tony’s office said he “took the view then and is strongly of the view now that the programme of social and economic change underway in Saudi Arabia is of immense and positive importance to the region and the world… the relationship with Saudi Arabia is of critical strategic importance to the West, and that therefore staying engaged there is justified”.