Tony Blair is to be paid at least £200,000 by a City firm accused of profiteering from the financial crisis that brought Britain's banks to their knees.
The former prime minister has been hired by the hedge fund Lansdowne Partners to deliver four presentations to staff about the world political situation. Mr Blair, one of the world's most highly paid speakers, reportedly commands between £50,000 and £170,000 for a single speech.
Details of his latest money-spinning appearance emerged days before he is due to appear before the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war.
He was accused last night of a "shameless" willingness to accept money from any source.
The deal caused further surprise as the company's chairman, Paul Ruddock, has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservative Party – most of it since David Cameron became its leader.
Lansdowne, which has held significant stakes in companies from Manchester United to J Sainsbury since it was set up in 1998, is Europe's fourth largest hedge fund. It is believed to have made hundreds of millions of pounds during the 2008 banking crisis from "short-selling" shares in the financial services industry.
A short seller makes money from a declining share price. A trader borrows a stock from a longer-term investor for a fee and immediately sells it. The trader waits for the stock to fall before buying it back and returning it, pocketing the difference.
The Mayfair-based hedge fund had long seen such an opportunity in the British banks by the time the credit crunch hit. It is believed to have held its position in Northern Rock for two years, initially making losses, before the bet paid out spectacularly. By the time the bank was nationalised, Lansdowne had reportedly raked in close to £100m.
It profited by betting on a fall in the value of Barclays' shares last year, benefiting as the price sank from 800p to as low as 60p. It also shorted Allied Irish Bank as well as many in the UK insurance sector.
One bank that was a particular target of the shorters was HBOS: it had 20 per cent of its value wiped off in one day two years ago as rumours of its parlous financial state swept the market.
Shorting financial stocks was banned by the Financial Services Authority in September 2008 until the following January, fearing it could destabilise the banking market.
Mr Blair has built a multimillion-pound fortune since stepping down as Prime Minister in 2007. In addition to earnings on the lecture circuit and the prospect of earning £5m from his memoirs, he has amassed a lucrative business portfolio.
He earns a reputed £2m a year as part-time adviser to the Wall Street bank JPMorgan Chase, and £500,000 from consultancy to Zurich Financial Services. He has set up his own company, Tony Blair Associates, to advise foreign countries such as Kuwait.
Allies stress that he undertakes a variety of charitable and unpaid work, including his role as international envoy to the Middle East.
Lansdowne said that Mr Blair would not be acting as a consultant, but would simply be making a series of presentations to staff on "geopolitics". The events were booked through the Washington Speakers Bureau, which has George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Sarah Palin, Donald Rumsfeld and Sir John Major on its books.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, a Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said: "Tony Blair is utterly shameless. He seems to be happy to take money from anybody, whether they are donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Tory party or whether they are hedge funds that made huge profits from selling Britain's banks short. This man appears to have a total mental block where ethics are concerned – if they pay enough money he will not ask any questions."
Dave Prentis, the general secretary of the union Unison, said: "It's the greed of the City slickers that has dragged this country into financial disaster and thrown hundreds of thousands on to the dole queue."
Tony Blair: Life after Downing Street
£15m Reported earnings since leaving Downing Street in June 2007
£300,000 Estimated income from lecture tour of North America in 2007
£240,000 Reputed fee for addressing Chinese businessmen two years ago
£5.75m Price paid by the Blairs for their Grade I-listed mansion in Buckinghamshire