Cherie pulls out of trip to Malaysia amid claims of 'cashing in' on position

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Indy Politics

Cherie Blair has pulled out of the opening of a designer shopping centre in Malaysia, a trip that fuelled accusations she was cashing in on her husband's office.

Downing Street denied rumours that she had been "dis-invited" by its billionaire owner. Francis Yeoh, the fervently Christian industrialist who owns the Starhill Gallery mall in Kuala Lumpur, is understood to have withdrawn invitations from celebrities including Shirley Bassey and the Baywatch star David Hasselhoff after negative publicity.

No 10 insisted Mrs Blair had changed her plans and needed to return Britain before the charity shopping centre gala to raise awareness of breast cancer. She will travel to Malaysia to give a law lecture in Kuala Lumpur on 25 July and had been expected to attend the £2,500-a-head event at the Starhill Gallery, which is billed as Asia's most select shopping mall, six days later.

Citing "scheduling issues", a Downing Street spokesman said: "We can confirm Mrs Blair will not be attending the charity event in Malaysia."

Mrs Blair, a specialist employment lawyer, has been heavily criticised in recent months over earnings related to her status as a prime ministerial consort after a number of speaking engagements linked to her book about life in Downing Street, The Goldfish Bowl.

Channel 4 confirmed that it has struck a deal with Mrs Blair to present a two-hour documentary based on the book. She will be paid an estimated £40,000, but it has been made clear this will be donated to charity.

Downing Street said yesterday that Mrs Blair was still seeking a way to fulfil an agreement with the wife of Mr Yeoh, Rosaline, and the wife of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datin Paduka Seri Endon Mahmood, herself a breast cancer survivor, to help raise awareness of the disease in Malaysia. Both women met Mrs Blair in London at a cancer charity event and Mrs Yeoh visited Downing Street with her husband to discuss plans for the charity gala.

But Eric Way, the London-based couturier who claimed to have introduced her to the Yeohs, said: "They've all been disinvited. He doesn't want any British celebrities or press there."

The annual lecture that Mrs Blair will deliver is hosted by Sultan Azlan Shah, a member of Malaysia's royal family. It is this first time that the lecture, which is given by a senior British legal figure, will be delivered by a woman.

The hospitality being offered to Mrs Blair, who will receive no fee for the lecture but will have her costs met, has raised concern that she will feel unable to confront the country about its human rights record.

The Malaysian government has refused to sign UN conventions of torture and civil liberties and been condemned by Amnesty International for its record on politically motivated prosecutions. Opposition politicians have said they expect Mrs Blair to address these issues in her lecture.