Iraqis call for inquiry into Blair and
Korean tycoon: Oil Minister is being probed over
By Barbara Jones and Peter Simpson
March 29, 2010
Politicians controlling one of the world's richest
oilfields face questions over Tony Blair's
involvement with a South Korean energy company.
Mr Blair was secretly hired as an adviser by UI
Energy Corporation, which has invested millions of
pounds in the search for oil in Kurdish-controlled
autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq's north.
Mr Blair's involvement has sparked fury in the area,
with one newspaper headline declaring: 'The
corruption of Tony Blair is revealed in Kurdistan.'
Now, a top opposition politician wants a full debate
on Mr Blair's role.
Mohamad Tofiq Rahim, deputy leader of the Movement
for Change in Kurdistan, said: 'Here is a South
Korean corporation desperate for concessions in our
oilfields and there is Tony Blair, very well-placed
to make a personal call to Jalal Talabani, the
President of Iraq, who revels in his closeness to
'It could have all been wrapped up in minutes.'
The flamboyant businessman in charge of awarding oil
exploration contracts in Northern Iraq is Ashti
Hawrami, who is understood to be under investigation
by the Financial Services Authority, the City's
Mr Hawrami, 61, who owns a mansion in
Henley-on-Thames – fewer than 30 miles from Mr
Blair's country home in Buckinghamshire – is energy
minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
He is said to have
by trading shares in a British company that struck
oil in Iraq.
Kurdistan oil minister Ashti Hawrami 'has made
£13million from oil share sales'
Luxury living: Tycoon Ashti Hawrami's imposing
countryside mansion. Photos: Daily Mail
Mr Hawrami invested in
Heritage Oil after he gave it a contract to begin
exploration work. He sold the shares after Heritage
found oil last March. Now it has emerged that Mr
Hawrami has met the chairman of UI Energy, Kyu-Sun
The Mail on Sunday revealed last week that Mr Choi
had served a two-year prison term in South Korea for
UI Energy said initially last week that Mr Blair had
been paid to advise the company on Iraq in 2008, the
year after he left Downing Street.
But UI Energy's lawyer Jeffrey Jones said later: 'Mr
Blair was hired to assist with an activity in the
Middle East. However, it had nothing to do with Iraq
'There was one meeting with Mr Blair in 2008 and we
had some email traffic on follow-up questions with
his staff. But once the 2008 financial crisis hit,www.ekurd.netthe
transaction was abandoned and we had no further
contact with Mr Blair.'
Kurdish political commentators have accused Mr Blair
of profiteering from the invasion of Iraq. Mr Rahim
said: 'There is no transparency in the way our oil –
our people's only wealth – is being sold-off
secretly to foreign companies.
'Instead, there is shocking corruption demonstrated
by our minister's former share-profiting and now by
this scandalous news of Blair's intervention and
influence. We can see now how useful his role is as
so-called Middle East peace envoy.
'We will demand answers to this scandal around Blair
and we will demand future transparency.'
Mr Blair is known to have formed close links with
President Talibani, who is a Kurd, and with
Kurdistan President Moussad Barzani. Both described
Mr Blair as a 'hero' after the overthrow of Saddam
Now, questions are being asked over his possible
influence over them in their dealings with foreign
corporations anxious to exploit the Kurdish oil
There is further unease over the role of Mr Hawrami,
who built a fortune as an oil consultant while in
exile in Britain during Saddam's years in power.
Last month, he was summoned by the Kurdistan
parliament to answer questions about the money he
made from selling shares in Heritage Oil and about
similar allegations in relation to a Norwegian oil
In a live TV interview watched by millions, Mr
Hawrami appeared nervous and embarrassed as he
insisted that he had acted within the law and that
profits from the deals had gone to the Kurdish
Mr Hawrami travels only periodically to Kurdistan
and lives mainly in his mansion in Henley-on-Thames.
Political analyst Asos Hardi, publisher of the
Kurdish current affairs magazine Awene, said: 'We do
not accept that Hawrami was legally able to use his
insider knowledge to buy shares cheaply and sell
them for a sensational amount of money.
'He has signed each and every deal with foreign oil
companies since the KRG made him a minister. There
is no transparency in the deals and no public record
of the contracts.
'Kurds have waited so long for their rightful
independence and the development of our oilfields is
vital to a successful economy.'
Mr Choi, 49, was convicted of bribery in 2003 over
the awarding of contracts to run a national lottery
in South Korea. After his release from jail, he left
South Korea for two years and went to live in the
But on his return he was accused of involvement in
another case of alleged financial impropriety, this
time over an attempt to join an oil exploration
consortium in Iraq.
He was charged but then eliminated from the
investigation after the prosecution said there was
not enough evidence to put him on trial.
Mr Blair's spokesman said last night that the former
Prime Minister had 'never heard' of Mr Hawrami. Mr
Hawrami said the KRG's contract was not with UI
Energy Corporation but a South Korean govern- ment-owned
consortium of which UI Energy was an affiliated
He added: 'We know UI Energy as it has been working
in the Kurdistan region on a hospital project and on
a small power plant. 'We are not aware of any
relationship between UI Energy and Mr Blair.
'I wish to categorically state that I have never met
Mr Blair and I have had no communication with him in
relation to oil contracts or any other matter.'
He did not respond to inquiries relating to the
alleged FSA investigation into his share dealings.
Oil chief and £4m manor
Flamboyant Ashti Hawrami's magnificent home, Ardlair
House, bears witness to the success of the oil
consultancy he founded in Britain after fleeing
The £4million mansion, in the village of Fawley on
the border of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire,
stands in its own lush grounds and has a sweeping
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