A colleague was surprised to see Alastair Campbell, former New Labour spindoctor, on the plane back from Astana earlier this week. They both took the Wednesday flight from the Kazakhstan capital to Vienna before transferring to London.
We have written before that Tony Blair has been out to Astana a few times since leaving office. For those who are not familiar with the Central Asian country, it has been criticised in the past for its lack of human rights, as Alex Barker quoted the US state department in a recent blog.
As we reported earlier, Goga Ashkenazi – the mutual friend of Prince Andrew and Timur Kulibayev – said today that the Kazakh billionaire bought the prince’s £15m former home to convert it into a “charitable school”. The first step was to get planning permission, she said.
Sunninghill was never bought for personal use. The plan, as I understand it, is to convert it into a charitable school for bright Kazakh children who can come here to do their A-levels and then try for the top British universities. The first step is to get planning permission.
The coverage of Prince Andrew’s ties with Kazakhstan has reminded me of another high-profile Brit with a fondness for trips to Astana: Tony Blair.
When we investigated Blair’s business and charity empire, we were puzzled by the former prime minister’s meeting in 2008 with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the longtime ruler of Kazakhstan.
Today’s must-read article for political types is an interview in the Evening Standard with Goga Ashkenazi, the glamorous Kazakh friend of Prince Andrew.