ir Tony Blair’s institute has continued to advise and receive money from the government of Saudi Arabia since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it has emerged.
The Sunday Times reported the former prime minister’s organisation is involved in a multimillion-pound partnership helping with a modernisation drive in the country led by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The prince, who is the Gulf state’s de facto leader, was accused of ordering the assassination of dissident Washington Post journalist Mr Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
He has denied any involvement and blamed rogue agents.
Sir Tony’s spokesman confirmed that the institute had continued its involvement in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a wide-ranging programme of economic reform devised to boost tourism and reduce reliance on oil, after Mr Khashoggi’s death.
According to a statement, “anxieties” were initially expressed internally as the institute considered how to proceed with the partnership, which started in 2017, following the killing.
But ultimately, Sir Tony was of the view that continued engagement was “justified” despite the “terrible crime,” and no staff or board member opposed the decision, the spokesman said.
“The renewed engagement of the USA and Western nations with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman illustrates why this decision was correct,” a statement said.
It comes after the Financial Times reported that Rishi Sunak invited the prince to the UK in the autumn. Downing Street declined to comment at the time.
A UK visit would be the latest sign of Western countries welcoming the crown prince back into the diplomatic fold after he was frozen out following the murder.
Britain is aiming to strengthen its ties with the kingdom despite concerns over its human rights record as it seeks to attract investment from the oil-rich Gulf following Brexit.
The FT said details of the trip have not yet been finalised, quoting an official as saying: “It’s more up to them, given we need them more than they need us.”
Mr Sunak met Prince Mohammed on the margins of the G20 summit in Bali last November, where the leaders discussed social reforms and civil liberties – but not the murder of Mr Khashoggi, No 10 said at the time.
US President Joe Biden raised the subject in his own talks over energy and security issues when he met the crown prince last year, indicating that he thought the Saudi leader was responsible for the killing.
A statement from Sir Tony’s office said that he “took the view then and is strongly of the view now that the programme of social and economic change under way in Saudi Arabia is of immense and positive importance to the region and the world… the relationship with Saudi Arabia is of critical strategic importance to the West, and that therefore staying engaged there is justified”.