'Cheriegate' flats rented to firm with £5bn MoD contracts

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Indy Politics

Tony and Cherie Blair's troubled property portfolio was once again the centre of controversy last night as it emerged that their Bristol flats are let to a defence firm involved in Government contracts worth more than £5bn.

Downing Street insisted that the Blairs had no part in choosing the tenants but failed to answer questions about whether the Prime Minister knew he was receiving rent from Thales, a French-owned company deeply involved in a number of MoD contracts. The company has previously made donations to the Labour Party.

The relationship is bound to re-open questions over the Prime Minister's ability to properly separate his private affairs from his official role.

The Blairs bought the two flats as an investment in January last year. The purchase became the subject of a major embarrassment for the Blairs - in an episode known as "Cheriegate"- when it emerged that the convicted conman Peter Foster had played a key role in the transaction - something Cherie Blair initially appeared to deny.

It emerged last night that the flats are occupied by senior Thales executives when on company business in Bristol. No 10 would neither confirm nor deny that the flats were being let to the defence firm. A spokesman said: "The Blairs have played no part in choosing tenants and have had no contact with them. It is all handled by The Manchester Trust which manages the Prime Minister's private affairs. The idea of any conflict of interest is therefore absurd."

Thales, whose contracts include a 50 per cent stake in the £2.8bn contract to build two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, claimed that it was unaware of the identity of the landlord of the flats.

Guy Douglas, a spokesman for Thales, said: "We rent properties to house our employees working away from their home base. As we deal with lettings agents we know nothing of the ownership."