Guinea Mining – More Characters than an Italian Opera: Alpha Conde, Tony Blair, Oleg Deripaska, African Governance Initiative, Mubadala Dev. Corp., RUSAL, Global Witness, JP Morgan . . .
By Robert Mendick, Chief reporter
8:30AM GMT 11 Mar 2012
The agreement coincides with a deal to explore new mining opportunities signed by the government of Guinea and a Middle East investment fund, which also employs Mr Blair as an adviser on business matters.
That contract potentially opens Mr Blair up to accusations of a conflict of interest — as an adviser to both parties.
Guinea is the fourth state in Africa — after Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone — to invite Mr Blair and his entourage into government. The formal partnership between Guinea and Mr Blair’s charity, the African Governance Initiative (AGI), was sealed at the end of last year after six months of negotiation.
Mr Blair can now include Alpha Conde on his list of African rulers with whom he is close. Mr Conde, a political science professor, came to power in 2010, the first time Guinea had elected its president freely and fairly since gaining independence from France more than 50 years ago.
Guinea, despite being one of the poorest and most corrupt countries on earth, may prove to be the jewel in AGI’s crown. After years of brutal, dictatorial rule, Guinea, which has a population of just 10 million in an area the size of the UK, has huge potential for growth.
Guinea is the world’s biggest producer of bauxite, used to make aluminium, and is set to become the third largest source of iron ore. There are also significant deposits of diamonds, gold and uranium. Bauxite reserves are estimated at 25 billion tons while there are a further four billion tons of iron ore.
AGI is currently deploying a team on the ground in Guinea’s ramshackle capital Conakry to instil good governance among its ministers and bureaucrats. Significantly, it will also involve itself in attracting foreign investors.
AGI’s website boasts of the charity’s determination “to attract the sustainable investment to build strong economies for the future”. One West African diplomatic source told The Sunday Telegraph: “AGI’s dealings are part business and part charity. While some people in his organisation are pushing the shepherding bit of his operation, others are doing business on the mineral resources side of things.”
A source in Guinea praised Mr Blair’s efforts. “I believe their commitment is genuine,” said the source. “In Guinea, it has already led to improvements in decision-making and coordination of policy.”
Mubadala Development Company, a £20 billion sovereign wealth fund set up by the Abu Dhabi government, signed the “collaboration agreement” with Guinea in November. It includes investing in new bauxite and iron ore mines.
Mubadala is well known to Mr Blair. His private consultancy Tony Blair Associates has been a paid adviser to the company since 2009.
It has been speculated that Mr Blair, who has seven properties to run including a town house in London and a country estate in Buckinghamshire, earns around £1 million a year from Mubadala, although a source at the company suggested that sum was too high.
There is no evidence that as an unpaid adviser to the Guinean government, Mr Blair or his team were in any way involved in the Mubadala agreement with Guinea. Nor is there any suggestion that Mr Blair has profited personally from the deal.
On Mr Blair’s role in Mubadala, a spokesman for the fund said: “He is one of many valued advisers on business matters to Abu Dhabi.
“Tony Blair does not receive any remuneration from Mubadala in respect of Guinea and has no commercial interest in the Mubadala connection there.”
Mr Blair’s spokesman said: “All the work he does for AGI is pro bono, he has no commercial interest connected with any of the work he does for AGI in these countries and indeed he supports the charity with his own money.”
AGI described Mr Blair as a “leading advocate” for Africa who believed its future depended on a thriving private sector.
The AGI spokesman said: “He [Mr Blair] frequently discusses the development of AGI’s partner countries with other governments, companies, philanthropic foundations and development agencies. He has no commercial interest in any such discussions and all the work he does as patron of AGI is on a pro bono basis.”
Mr Blair first visited Conakry last June and returned there in December to formally agree AGI’s tie-up with Guinea.
AGI is run from Mr Blair’s London headquarters in Grosvenor Square by Kate Gross, a former adviser to Mr Blair when in Downing Street, while its country head in Guinea is Shruti Mehrotra, previously a campaigner with anti-corruption charity Global Witness.
Mr Blair and Mr Conde appear to have struck up a good friendship.
Mr Blair has said he was “attracted by the vision” of Mr Conde, while for his part Mr Conde declared in December: “The first thing that Tony Blair brings is his expertise; second, the experts who he has put at our disposal; third he helps us see that it’s not just enough to define priorities, we need timetables to deliver them.”
A month earlier, Mubadala announced it had signed “agreements to explore new investments and partnerships in strategic sectors such as bauxite, alumina and iron ore”. A press release issued at the time noted the deal would “deliver significant benefits to the economies of both the Republic of Guinea and United Arab Emirates”.
It is not known if Mr Blair was involved in Mubadala’s decision to move into Guinea. Another acquaintance of Mr Blair also has an interest in the country. Oleg Deripaska, oligarch and friend of Lord Mandelson, owns a bauxite mine and a smelting plant in Guinea through his company Rusal, the world’s largest producer of aluminium.
Rusal also held talks in November with Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, over a new bauxite mining project. Separately Mr Blair is an adviser to Mr Koroma.
Mr Blair has previously benefited from Mr Deripaska’s largesse. Another of Mr Blair’s charities — an environmental campaign group called Breaking the Climate Deadlock — was given £300,000 by Mr Deripaska in 2009.
Mr Blair has been linked to Rusal through another of his advisory roles.
In 2009, JP Morgan, an investment bank which pays Mr Blair about £1 million a year, tried to put together a deal in which Rusal would be refinanced through a £3 billion loan from the Libyan Investment Authority.
JP Morgan linked the deal to a trip being made by Mr Blair to Tripoli to see Col Muammar Gaddafi — although Mr Blair denies any knowledge of the JP Morgan negotiations, which later fell through.
A Rusal spokesman said last week: “Tony Blair has never participated in any negotiations regarding Rusal’s business and has never been an adviser or consultant to the company.”
A source added: “They are adamant they have had no dealings with him in Africa.”
Africa is only one part of Mr Blair’s growing empire. Mr Blair — or companies associated with him — also has consultancies with the governments of Kuwait and Kazakhstan, and the Swiss insurance group Zurich Financial Services.
In January is was disclosed that a management company set up by Mr Blair had an income of more than £12 million but paid tax of just £315,000 on profits of more than £1 million.
Mr Blair’s total fortune has been estimated as between £30 million and £40 million, although Mr Blair’s aides deny it is that high.