Egyptian government paid for Blairs' Red Sea resort holiday

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair accepted an all-expenses break in a Red Sea resort paid for by the Egyptian government.

The Prime Minister accepted accommodation in the New Tower Hotel in the popular Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for his family and their nanny over the New Year.

Egypt also paid for return flights from Cairo to the Red Sea resort. Last night, Downing Street said Mr Blair had donated the value of the accommodation and flights to acharity of the Egyptian government's choice.

"The charity would have been decided by the Egyptian government," a Downing Street spokesman said. "It is the case with the Egyptian government that this is the way it happens if leaders visit."

Mr Blair, his wife, Cherie and their children Euan, Nicky, Kathryn and Leo – with their nanny – left on Boxing Day for Egypt where they stayed in two private villas for six nights. A double room in the hotel costs £650 a week including meals.

Mr Blair's break in the Red Sea resort was kept a secret by the Government but he was spotted with his wife admiring the 4,500-year-old pyramids at Giza as they took a tour with the director of the Giza pyramid plateau, Dr Zahi Hawass.

At the time, Downing Street insisted that the holiday was "entirely private'' and it was assumed that the Blairs footed the entire bill for the winter break.

But in the latest edition of the House of Commons registers of Members' interests, Mr Blair declared that "In December 2001-January 2002, accompanied by my family I spent six nights as a guest of the Egyptian government at two private government villas at the New Tower Hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The Egyptian government also provided my family with a return flight from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh.

Mr Blair said his donation to the charity was equivalent to "the cost to the Egyptians for this accommodation and travel''.

Mr Blair paid for the family's flights from Britain to Cairo.

The trip also had a political dimension because it included talks with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. His visit was heralded by the Egyptian embassy in London as a boost to the economy because the tourist trade had been damaged following attacks by Islamic militants on tourists.

In 1999, when he was accused of being a "scrounger'' by the Italian press after he accepted a holiday in Tuscany at the Italian taxpayers' expense, the Prime Minister attempted to fend off criticism by making a £3,000 donation to a charity.

Mr Blair, who heads to Texas today for talks with President Bush about the worsening situation in the Middle East, will be joined on the way home by his wife, Cherie, who is on holiday in the USA. Downing Street indicated yesterday that her flight home would be paid for by the Blairs.

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