Back in March last year, Maldives opposition leader Mohammed Nasheed was thrown into prison for 13 years by the country’s despotic President Abdulla Yameen, in what Amnesty International dubbed a ‘travesty of justice’. Days later, his anxious supporters received some heartening news. An email arrived in their inbox suggesting that famous British human rights lawyer [...]


British MPs call for probe into Cherrie Blair’s law firm over deals with Maldives


Back in March last year, Maldives opposition leader Mohammed Nasheed was thrown into prison for 13 years by the country’s despotic President Abdulla Yameen, in what Amnesty International dubbed a ‘travesty of justice’.

Days later, his anxious supporters received some heartening news.

An email arrived in their inbox suggesting that famous British human rights lawyer Cherie Blair was prepared to throw her weight behind the campaign to free Nasheed, by writing a newspaper comment article, or ‘op-ed’, about his plight.

‘There is a possibility Cherie Blair QC, wife of former PM Tony Blair, may be willing to do an op-ed,’ it read. ‘She is Chancellor Emeritus (and previously Chancellor) of Liverpool John Moores University, where President Nasheed graduated from. I have been introduced to her and she asked me for a draft [of the article].’

The message, obtained by Britain’s Mail newspaper and published this week, carried weight because it was written by Benedict Rogers, a senior figure in the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Here are excerpts:

“Marked ‘Strictly Confidential; Please Do Not Forward,’ and dated March 20, it carried a copy of the draft article that Mr Rogers expected Mrs Blair to put her name to. Very compelling it was, too.

“The piece described Nasheed’s trial as ‘an extraordinary farce’ and said his imprisonment meant that ‘democracy is dead in the Maldives. In its place, we have thuggish authoritarian rule…

‘Comparisons with Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi are deserved,’ it added. ‘Mr Nasheed should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.’

As for the dictatorial President of the Maldives, who has imprisoned around 1,700 opposition activists, the draft article was unequivocal.

‘It is clear that Mr Yameen’s regime does not respond to soft diplomacy. It is therefore time to speak to the regime in a language it will understand. Hitting it where it hurts: in its wallet.

Targeted sanctions are needed.’ Wise words indeed. And ones which closely echoed very similar sentiments put down on paper only a few days earlier by a second man very close to Mrs Blair called Toby Cadman.

On March 4, Nasheed’s office in the Maldives had been sent a document by Mr Cadman, a barrister who happens to work on the advisory council of Mrs Blair’s international law firm, Omnia Strategy.

Headlined ‘Draft Agreement’, it made a proposition: For a fee, he would offer ‘professional legal and public advocacy services’ to the jailed opposition leader, along with the ‘development of a long-term lobbying strategy’ to help secure his release.

‘His arrest and trial is a politically motivated show-trial aimed at cementing further an already authoritarian regime,’ read Cadman’s pitch.

‘The government of the Maldives must immediately release Mohamed Nasheed or face international isolation, diplomatically and economically. Tourists must boycott the Maldives,’ it went on.

‘The international community cannot allow the Maldives to drift towards a pariah State — there are already clear signs of a military dictatorship, rising Islamic fundamentalism and the abuse of women.’

Cadman claimed he’d be able to place three or four articles supportive of Nasheed in ‘key international newspapers’.

He’d also ‘approach all major news networks’ seeking to set up TV interviews, and start an ‘online grassroots campaign’ to ‘shame’ the government on Twitter and Facebook.

It intrigued supporters of Nasheed, who had served as the first democratically elected President of the Maldives from 2008 until being deposed at gunpoint in 2012. But there was also a catch.

‘Cadman wanted to be paid for his services,’ explained one of Nasheed’s supporters. ‘We just weren’t in a position to do that. More to the point, we already had a brilliant team of people prepared to do legal and lobbying work for us entirely for free, including Amal Clooney. So after considering Mr Cadman’s offer for a while we decided not to follow it up.’

Around the time that decision was made, Nasheed’s office got another ‘urgent and confidential’ email from Benedict Rogers, the man who had been hoping to persuade Cherie Blair to write an article in support of their campaign. It brought bad news.

‘Regrettably, Cherie Blair felt she does not have a track record on the Maldives and therefore in the end declined [to put her name to the article],’ it read. The news came as a disappointment. But some three months later, that turned to outright anger, when Nasheed’s office got a piece of strange and upsetting news.

Omnia Strategy, the firm run by Mrs Blair — a supposed champion of human rights, who previously seemed so supportive of their cause — had just signed a lucrative deal to represent Nasheed’s opponents: the despotic and corrupt government of President Yameen.

To their dismay, Mrs Blair and Mr Cadman then began to work tirelessly to advance the dictator’s ugly agenda. In September, Ms Blair issued a joint PR statement with Maldives Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, the niece of dictator Yameen.

Made against the backdrop of growing international outrage about the regime, it criticised proposed sanctions as ‘inappropriate and unjustified’, saying they ‘threaten the economic stability of the Maldives’.

That’s the opposite of the position that had been set out in the draft article of March 18, which specifically advocated ‘targeted sanctions’.

The PR statement also seemed oddly confident in tone, given that, only months earlier, Mrs Blair had apparently declared that she ‘didn’t have a track record’ to comment on the Maldives in an unpaid capacity.

But money, or the scent of it, appears to do strange things to Mrs Blair’s firm’s sense of judgment.

How else can we explain Omnia’s extraordinary decision, revealed by the Daily Mail yesterday, to accept a £210,000 payment for its services to the Maldives government from the bank account of a private company? Or its failure to realise that the money originally came from an international fugitive wanted by Interpol on charges of corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement from the government quango Omnia had billed?

Asked about Mrs Blair’s decision not to put her name to the draft newspaper article, a spokesman said: ‘it had no link whatsoever with any potential work for Omnia Strategy in the Maldives’.

Mohammed Nasheed was thrown into prison for 13 years by President Abdulla Yameen in what Amnesty International dubbed a ‘travesty of justice’

As for Mr Cadman, he denied any hypocrisy on Omnia’s part by insisting that his initial pitch to Nasheed was not made on behalf of Omnia.
Instead, he said, it was submitted in his capacity as the co-founder of a consultancy firm called ‘International Forum for Democracy and Human Rights’, an entirely separate organisation whose logo appeared on the draft agreement.

‘The discussion that took place almost a year ago was in my private capacity and had nothing to do with Omnia or Cherie Blair QC,’ he said.

Supporters of Nasheed disagree.

They will in the coming weeks file a complaint with the Bar Standards Board, which regulates barristers in the UK, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which regulates Omnia, claiming the firm, and Mr Cadman, may have breached rules that prevent ‘double pitching’ to both sides in a dispute.

Any such claim will be vigorously disputed. Indeed, Cadman says: ‘Members of the Bar may be approached by either party during the preliminary stages’ of any dispute.

He adds that he was asked by Nasheed’s team to submit a written proposal, but that, there was never any discussion of fees, or being formally instructed.

‘I did not “pitch” both sides in the same dispute,’ Cadman insists. ‘I never met or spoke to any member of the former President’s legal team or political office.’

© Daily Mail, London

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