Sarawak Report can now add to growing questions in Britain about Tony Blair and his former PR advisors’ links with repressive regimes.
We have learnt from exclusive sources that the former UK Prime Minister’s ex-Communications Chief, Alastair Campbell (world-famous for the so-called ‘Dodgy Dossier’ that sanctioned the invasion of Iraq), is now advising Najib Razak on how to win the next election!
This follows the recent scandal over FBC Media, a story also broken by Sarawak Report, which revealed that Najib and Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud were illegally buying positive publicity on worldwide TV-news shows.
A common link between FBC Media, the PM’s previous PR firm, APCOA and now Alastair Campbell is believed to be Paul Stadlen, who is a British PR man, close to Najib and based in KL.
Najib is said to be desperate to brush up his international image, on the eve of an expected election and in the wake of the appalling world publicity gained by his treatment of the July 9th Bersih rally. He also wants to increase his voter appeal towards an increasingly independently-minded urban electorate in Malaysia.
Our sources say that Campbell recently visited Najib in KL and has been behind advice over the past couple of months to show a more friendly image, such as the promise to reform detention laws (a gesture which has subsequently been put on indefinite hold) and the concept of a “Cool Najib”, reflective of the coining of Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” back in the 1990s!
Cosying up to oil-rich dictators?
Our revelations about Malaysian links with Tony Blair’s team of advisors past and present, come hard on the heels of weekend reports in the UK’s Financial Times and Daily Mail newspapers about similar activities in Khazakhstan.
Alastair Campbell was seen returning earlier this month from Astana, the Khazakh capital, where he admitted to doing some consultancy work and quoted as saying:
“but nothing like on the scale that Tony is doing”.
Tony Blair himself is believed to have forged close relations with the Khazakh President, Nursaltan Nazabayev during his period in office and to have continued those relations, including making a number of visits this year.
Nazarbayev is another potentate with international image problems, given the notorious cruelty and corruption of his 20 year regime.
Intriguingly, the growing ties between him and Najib Razak, particularly in the field of public relations, have already been well documented in Sarawak Report’s coverage of the FBC Media scandal.
Both countries had hired FBC’s PR services and were frequently featured on FBC programmes. The question now must surely be what ties have there been between FBC and people linked to Tony Blair and how directly linked has Blair himself been to these and related PR initiatives?
According to the UK news reports, which point out a pattern of friendly links between Blair and the leaders of oil rich countries, the former PM himself headed a delegation to Khazakhstan in January, allegedly to broker a public relations deal, which is believed to be worth up to $13 million US dollars. He also attended a conference in May. The newspapers record that Blair’s spokesman has confirmed:
“Tony Blair has helped put together a team of international advisors and consultants to set up an advisory group for the Kazakhs, with a team of people working on the ground. The work they are doing is excellent, sensible and supports the reforms they are making” [Now Blair Strikes Deal to Advise an Oil Rich Despot - Daily Mail 22/10/11]
However, the spokesman did not respond to questions about whether Mr Campbell or Blair’s other high profile former advisor, Jonathan Powell, were part of that advisory team. Powell helped establish Tony’s investment advisory company Firerush Ventures No 3, where he now works. Another former Downing Street spokesman, Tim Allan, who has now set up the PR company, Portman Group, is also known to be involved in advising Khazakhstan.
Suspicions that Mr Blair might be making any profit from such links have, however, been categorically denied by the former premier. His spokesman at the weekend stated that:
“Tony Blair last visited Kazakhstan in May of this year to attend a conference. He has taken no personal profit and is not doing business in Kazakhstan…To be clear, Tony Blair is not personally making a profit directly or indirectly through Tony Blair Associates or any other company on this. The $13million figure is wrong. “.
So the question that is being asked is what on earth, therefore, is he doing? One Khazakh official is quoted by the Financial Times as saying:
“His advice is priceless, Kazakhstan will get the best advice possible from him on issues connected with policy and the economy. . . We could not have a better adviser.” [Financial Times, 21/10/11]
However, Craig Murray, a former British Ambassador to the region, has put the matter rather differently:
“All Tony Blair is really doing, whether he knows it or not, is lending respectability to an oligarch with a shocking reputation on human rights”, he told the FT.
Alastair Campbell Malaysia and FBC Media – the ties
Alastair Campbell, on the other hand, was apparently not available to speak to journalists last Friday about his own links to Astana. They failed to reach him by text, phone or email.
Perhaps they should have caught him instead on Twitter, a medium in which he was, as usual, extremely active on that day?
However, according to our further exclusive information, Campbell has separately held extensive private meetings in KL with Najib and that the main topic was advising him on how to win the next election.
“It was about how to deal with the opposition, how to portray Najib and what needs to be done to win, based on the success of Tony Blair”, explained one insider.
The association has provoked concerns among the beleaguered Opposition in Malaysia, that Campbell will use his international contacts and his influence through Tony Blair to boost Najib and BN’s image, despite that party’s proven record of corruption and repression, as well as the denial of key human rights and the failure to deliver clean elections in Malaysia.
“We are concerned that Najib will gain more positive coverage through this contact, without performing any of the reforms necessary. This way he relies solely on the major pronouncements and coverage in the media” one senior opposition figure has commented to Sarawak Report. “People who profess democracy and the rule of law to the rest of the world have now become complicit in all the excesses and abuses of those values in countries like Malaysia. Those, who preached about freedom and human rights and invaded Iraq in the name of democracy, are now aiding the anti-democratic regime of Malaysia”
Other sources have speculated that it is these contradictions that have ensured that Campbell’s consultations with Najib have remained strictly private.
The contract to attack Sarawak Report
Meanwhile, Sarawak Report can further reveal separate insider information, which indicates that earlier this year Alastair Campbell was approached by FBC Media to consult about their $5 million a year PR contract with Taib to attack our own anti-corruption campaign. He agreed to a meeting.
We have no evidence that Alastair Campbell provided any information or advice on countering our blog However we have been informed that the expectation was, that because of his extensive UK connections, he might be able to offer insights that could be used to harm the credibility of Sarawak Report. This was the purpose of the consultation.
For these reasons, the recent speculation about the PM’s sudden new dash to a ‘youthful’ and ‘cool’ image, becomes doubly interesting.
Did Najib’s introduction to Campbell come from FBC Media or rather from the continuing relationship between his former boss, Tony Blair, and BN?
Najib became PM after Blair stood down in 2007, yet the Blairs have remained regular visitors to Malaysia, coming every year at least once. Cherie posed with ‘First Lady’ Rosmah just last year during a visit to KL and the family holidayed for 2 weeks at the 5 Star Nexus Resort in Sabah in 2009, where they occupied the Royal Suite.
Campbell’s alleged association with Najib, however, looks certain to raise as many eyebrows in the UK as in Malaysia.
Many would question the ethics of assisting BN’s increasingly undemocratic and corrupted regime, as it seeks re-election after 55 years of uninterrupted rule. Moreover, attempts to paint a third generation dynastic politician, who is facing serious questions over personal corruption, as some kind of reforming democrat, through a slick PR campaign, will also be criticised by those seeking genuine reform in Malaysia.
The matter has now been made all the more compelling by the revelation of apparent parallels, over the similar involvement with Khazakhstan.
The opposition PKR party, which recently uncovered the fact that Najib paid RM 94 million to FBC Media over 3 years, are also making clear they are concerned about the costs of this latest round of foreign PR services. The expenditure by the Prime Minister’s Private Office has rocketed by 400% at a time of growing public deficits.
Likely disquiet in BN
It is equally probable that, once more, Najib’s choice of PR guru may cause problems among his own BN supporters. Another reason, it has been speculated, why the Campbell visit has been so shrouded in secrecy!
After all, it is well known that Campbell was one of Blair’s key advisors when he made his controversial decision to back George W Bush’s ill-fated invasion of Iraq, which caused the slaughter of up to half a million innocent civilians in that Muslim country.
He was also deeply involved in the process of what has been termed the ‘sexing up’ of the ‘dodgy dossier’ of evidence that was used to convince the British and American public that Sadam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction .
That dossier ‘made the case for war’ in Britain, but it has since been disproved and has been criticised as dishonest.
Many religious groups in Malaysia might also be dismayed by the fact that Mr Campbell, a reformed alcoholic, enjoyed a well-known track record as a pornography writer, before becoming a tabloid journalist in the UK.
The Khazakh connection
The information that a Blair team is operating both in KL and Astana matches a clear pattern of developing links and relations between Malaysia and the former Soviet dictatorship in Khazakhstan.
The two oil states, both run by oligarchies with heavily tainted reputations, further cemented their ties earlier this year with the marriage between the daughter of Najib Razak, Nooryana and the President’s nephew, Daniyar Nazarbayev (above).
Likewise, the links when it comes to international PR are striking between the two countries.
A series of conferences and events show-casing both states, in particular the World Islamic Economic Forum, were managed through the now discarded contract with FBC Media.
The UK based PR/Production company ensured international coverage on CNBC and BBC World.
However, FBC, which made millions of dollars from these two key clients, closed its London offices on Monday and is believed to have gone into administration following the scandal over its discredited programmes.
Therefore it seems certain that several questions will soon be asked in both the UK and KL about the exact relationship with this latest team of image advisors, associated with Tony Blair, now being seen in both countries.
It could well be argued, for reasons given above, that the relationship does neither side, Tony Blair or BN, any political good.
Certainly, the exact nature of any financial incentives for any of those around the former PM should be immediately made clear.
And the UK consultants advising both Najib and Nazarbayev should explain how they believe that propping up these two regimes with slick PR advice can in any way promote the cause of democracy in these two countries?