Cherie Blair has been accused of accepting money from repressive regimes after her legal consultancy signed a deal with the Maldives government – which faces international condemnation for human rights abuses.
Omnia Strategy, the London and Washington-based consultancy that Ms Blair founded and chairs, is to advise President Abdulla Yameen’s government on “democracy consolidation”.
The value of the contract, which was signed this week, has not been confirmed. But the deal has sparked an outcry in the Indian Ocean archipelago, where the current regime has been accused of suppressing political dissent. The leading opposition movement, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), condemned Ms Blair’s decision, describing the consultants as “unethical and profiteering” people who were being employed to “help wash the blood” off the President’s hands.
The announcement comes three months after the Maldives faced criticism for giving a 13-year jail sentence to former President Mohamed Nasheed. He became the state’s first democratically elected president in 2008, but was forced to resign at gunpoint in 2012. His conviction on terror charges in March this year was described as “a travesty of justice” by Amnesty International.
Omnia’s deal with the Maldives will also pitch Ms Blair against Amal Clooney, one of the team of lawyers representing Mr Nasheed. Ms Clooney, who has filed a case to the UN urging it to rule his detention arbitrary and in violation of international law, said the sentence was designed to punish Mr Nasheed for criticising the regime and remove him as a political threat.
Last week, the US senators John McCain and Jack Reed urged their government to press for the release of all political prisoners in the Maldives. The European Union has also called for Mr Nasheed’s immediate release while Canada said this week that the rights situation in the Maldives must be discussed at the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. Mr Nasheed wrote to President Yameen this week appealing for a reduction in his imprisonment.
Amnesty International has also criticised President Yameen’s government for further abuses including jailing other opposition leaders, resuming executions, judicial floggings and impunity for police and army officers responsible for “unnecessary or excessive use of force”.
A joint press release from Maldives ministry of foreign affairs and Attorney General’s office published this week said Omnia will “advise the government [on] strengthening the legislative framework of the government as part of the government’s broader strategy for democracy consolidation”.
It said the decision to employ Omnia “underscores the government’s commitment to strengthen democratic institutions of the state and to promote a culture of respect for human rights.”
Ms Blair and her husband Tony, have been repeatedly criticised for signing lucrative business deals with autocratic governments. Omnia’s other clients have included Kazakhstan and Gambia.
An MDP spokesperson, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, said the party was “disgusted” by the deal. “The international community is united in its condemnation of the Yameen regime’s thuggery and undemocratic behaviour,” he said.
“This dictatorship has locked up the Maldives’ first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed and the entire Maldives opposition, while human rights are in free-fall. It is hard to believe that Cherie Blair would want to keep company with such thugs of ill repute.
“It is unethical for Blair to work for this regime. No doubt she is being paid a small fortune, to help wash the blood off Yameen’s reputation.”
Questions are also being asked whether the former Attorney General Baroness Scotland, who sits on Omnia’s advisory council, played a key role in the deal. She was reportedly paid £75,000 for two weeks’ work in 2012 advising Mohammed Waheed Hassan, Mr Nasheed’s deputy who ousted him in the coup that year. Baroness Scotland was unavailable for comment.
Toby Cadman, partner at Omnia Strategy, said the company has been appointed “to advise on legislative and constitutional reform to which the government is committed”.
He added: “Omnia does not involve itself in domestic politics and is adopting a constructive approach to assist the government in strengthening democracy, the rule of law and restoring investor confidence.”
Counsel facts: All about Omnia
Omnia Strategy LLP was founded by Cherie Blair in 2011 to provide “strategic counsel to governments, corporates and private clients”.
The legal consultancy has operations in both Washington, DC and London, but its UK office is simply registered to a PO box in Paddington. It does not advertise its actual address near Hyde Park for “security reasons”.
Omnia’s clients have included Gabon’s President, Ali Bongo Ondimba. The firm received almost £400,000 for six months’ work in Kazakhstan for reviewing its “bilateral investment treaties” and in March signed a deal with the Albanian government to act on its behalf in a £250m legal dispute. The contract came a year after Tony Blair began acting for the Albanian government as an official adviser.
Mrs Blair has also represented Omnia at an event in Nigeria, the home to Aliko Dangote, the richest person in Africa, who also sits on Omnia’s advisory council.
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