27 June 2005

Cherie pulls out of PR stunt in Malaysia
amid claims of 'cashing in' on position

By Cahal Milmo

Cherie Blair has pulled out of the opening of a designer shopping centre in Malaysia, a trip that fuelled accusations she was cashing in on her husband's office.
Downing Street denied rumours that she had been "dis-invited" by its billionaire owner. Francis Yeoh, the fervently Christian industrialist who owns the Starhill Gallery mall in Kuala Lumpur, is understood to have withdrawn invitations from celebrities including Shirley Bassey and the Baywatch star David Hasselhoff after negative publicity.
No 10 insisted Mrs Blair had changed her plans and needed to return Britain before the charity shopping centre gala to raise awareness of breast cancer. She will travel to Malaysia to give a law lecture in Kuala Lumpur on 25 July and had been expected to attend the £2,500-a-head event at the Starhill Gallery, which is billed as Asia's most select shopping mall, six days later.
Citing "scheduling issues", a Downing Street spokesman said: "We can confirm Mrs Blair will not be attending the charity event in Malaysia."
Mrs Blair, a specialist employment lawyer, has been heavily criticised in recent months over earnings related to her status as a prime ministerial consort after a number of speaking engagements linked to her book about life in Downing Street, The Goldfish Bowl.
Channel 4 confirmed that it has struck a deal with Mrs Blair to present a two-hour documentary based on the book. She will be paid an estimated £40,000, but it has been made clear this will be donated to charity.
Downing Street said yesterday that Mrs Blair was still seeking a way to fulfil an agreement with the wife of Mr Yeoh, Rosaline, and the wife of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datin Paduka Seri Endon Mahmood, herself a breast cancer survivor, to help raise awareness of the disease in Malaysia. Both women met Mrs Blair in London at a cancer charity event and Mrs Yeoh visited Downing Street with her husband to discuss plans for the charity gala.
But Eric Way, the London-based couturier who claimed to have introduced her to the Yeohs, said: "They've all been disinvited. He doesn't want any British celebrities or press there."
The annual lecture that Mrs Blair will deliver is hosted by Sultan Azlan Shah, a member of Malaysia's royal family. It is this first time that the lecture, which is given by a senior British legal figure, will be delivered by a woman.
The hospitality being offered to Mrs Blair, who will receive no fee for the lecture but will have her costs met, has raised concern that she will feel unable to confront the country about its human rights record.
The Malaysian government has refused to sign UN conventions of torture and civil liberties and been condemned by Amnesty International for its record on politically motivated prosecutions. Opposition politicians have said they expect Mrs Blair to address these issues in her lecture.

June 12, 2005

Tycoon recruits Cherie Blair for luxury PR stunt

Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Mages Ramakrishnan, Kuala Lumpur

CHERIE BLAIR faces new questions over her judgment after it emerged she is being used to help promote a duty-free shopping centre for a Malaysian billionaire who has offered her a luxurious break in the Far East.
She will travel to Kuala Lumpur, the capital, next month for a six-day visit. Her trip is being used to help promote the opening of Starhill, a boutique complex.
Downing Street confirmed yesterday that Blair will attend a charity function, which is one in a programme of events to mark the launch of the new mall, marketed as “a palace of infinite indulgence”. The gallery’s developer, YTL, headed by the billionaire Francis Yeoh, 47, is sponsoring the function.
A lavish series of events has been devised by YTL. According to a document dated May 21, they run from July 25-31 and range from the mall’s “grand opening”, a commercial event, to the charity fundraiser, which will be held in an adjoining five-star hotel.
YTL, a utilities and property conglomerate, bought Wessex Water in 2002 and is believed to be seeking other acquisitions in the UK. Businesses in the Starhill mall have been been told Blair will be helping with its official launch.
Joanne Tan, promotions manager of Cortina Watches, one of the outlets at the new centre, said: “We are very excited that Cherie Blair is going to be at the [official] opening of the gallery. I think she is a special friend of the YTL boss.”
Blair has also been invited to Yeoh’s island resort, Pangkor Laut. One of his associates said last week: “He’s a great showman and he will really lay it on for Cherie. He has a gift for the celebrity event.”
Zarina Sharil, one of the organisers of the charity event sponsored by YTL, said: “All the celebrities [invited to the charity event] are going to Pangkor Laut for a holiday. Cherie is flying out the week before and is definitely going to the resort.”
A Downing Street source yesterday said that Blair would be in Malaysia next month, but the only confirmed engagements were a law lecture on July 26 and the charity function on July 31 in Kuala Lumpur.
The source said Blair would neither be travelling to the island nor attending the official opening, even though Malaysian business sources said they had been told to expect her.
The disclosure that she has apparently declined Yeoh’s invitation to the opening and to visit his island comes amid disquiet about whether her activities exploit her position as the prime minister’s wife.
She has just returned from Washington where she is said to have been paid £30,000 for a speech on life inside Downing Street, which coincided with talks held between the prime minister and President George Bush at the White House.
The Sunday Times revealed in January that Blair was being paid up to £100,000 for a charity tour in Australia. On a previous visit there in April 2003, she was accused of being “undignified” when she left a designer clothes showroom in Melbourne with 68 items after being told she could take “a few things” as gifts.
Chris Grayling, the shadow leader of the Commons, said yesterday that Blair should declare whether she was receiving any fee, hospitality or gifts in kind for her latest trip. He has already said the ministerial code should stop any member of the prime minister’s family gaining financial advantage from the premiership.
“Blair should disclose any benefits she receives because of her role as the prime minister’s wife,” he said. “We need some urgent action to address this.”
The event organisers said Blair and the other celebrities would be given “gifts”. They were unable to give details of the presents or their value.
Blair’s forthcoming visit is a big talking point in the city where business figures are being asked to pay £15,000 for one of the 40 tables at the charity fundraiser. Dame Shirley Bassey, the singer, Jackie Chan, the martial arts star, and David Hasselhoff, the Baywatch actor, are among those due to attend.
The stores complex covers seven floors and will sell watches and clothes from top fashion houses. Yeoh has said it will attract the wealthy from around the world as a “gallery of rich experiences”.
YTL is one of the most powerful companies in Malaysia, but was little known in Britain until it bought Wessex Water for £1.24 billion. Its Pangkor Laut resort has won several travel awards and boasts a spa with “lotus ponds”, “nap gazebos” and a “reflexology path”.
It offers massages with steamed lime leaves and lemon grass and the chance to bathe in “warm herbal floral water”. The resort’s beach, Emerald Bay, has been called one of the most beautiful in the world.
Yeoh’s wife Rosalind met Blair in London at a charity fashion show in October last year. She was told a similar event was being organised by Azrene Abdullah — the daughter-in-law of the Malaysian prime minister — in Kuala Lumpur and was asked if she would be able to attend the YTL-sponsored function.
Before attending the charity event Blair is scheduled to give the Sultan Azlan Shah law lecture in Kuala Lumpur, in honour of Sultan Azlan, a member of the Malaysian royal family and lord chief justice.
Visu Sinnadurai, who is organising the lecture, said Blair would be a guest of the royal family. He had no details of her travel arrangements other than that engagement.

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