Two of the highest profile lawyers in the UK – both women, as it happens – are in a catfight over a exotic case that involves big money for one and no money for the other.
Amal Clooney is battling on behalf of a jailed hero and opposition figure in the Maldives. Cherie Blair, wife of former PM Tony, is acting for the Maldivian government resisting Ms Clooney’s battle.
The Daily Mail reported that Cherie Blair, who runs a highly lucrative international law firm Omnia Strategy, took the brief while on a private holiday in Sri Lanka and “couldn’t resist the chance to make some extra cash between relaxing at the pool and doing yoga sessions at her five star hotel.”
Cherie Blair and her husband have accumulated vast fortunes separately in their “work” handling often dubious deals for unsavoury characters on the world stage.
Omnia is run out of offices overlooking Hyde Park. Cherie used her vacation to make the most of business opportunities, speaking to the Bar Association and speaking of the need to make money so as to permit important human rights issues to be pursued as well.
They should go hand in hand, she gravely told her audience. ‘You are only a mobile phone call away from a terrible reputation,’ she warned, which is why it was so important to have good business ethics.
Mohamed Nasheed, Amal Clooney’s imprisoned client, was the first democratically elected president of the Maldives when he took office in 2008. His term ended abruptly four years later when he was deposed — at gunpoint, he claims — by a dictator who had run a one-party state in the country for 30 years.
Ms Clooney visited him in jail this month
This year, Nasheed received a 13 year sentence on terrorism charges, leading to Amal Clooney’s pro bono representation to secure his release in a case that aroused international outrage from human rights groups.
Ms Blair enters the fray as lawyer for the Maldivian government, prompting sceptics to once again question her apparent ceaseless thirst for high fees. Once again, from the Daily Mail:
Earlier this month, the Mail reported how Cherie was representing Rwandan spy chief Karenzi Karake, who had been arrested in London as an alleged war criminal.
On a legal loophole, she helped Karake win his battle against extradition to Spain to face charges that he arranged massacres in Rwanda 21 years ago in which three Spanish aid workers died.
In addition, Karake was accused of organising the assassination of Lincolnshire solicitor Graham Turnbull, who had given up his job to teach in Africa. Omnia Strategy has accepted contracts from the oppressive Middle Eastern state of Bahrain and the autocratic regime in Kazakhstan.
So it should not surprise us that it is now taking money from the government of the Maldives — a country long accused of human rights abuses.
The Maldives may enjoy a romantic and exotic reputation among holiday-makers, but in fact it is a place of abject poverty for most of its 320,000 people, ruled over by Maymoum Gayoom and his family who have amassed vast wealth, including a £5 million luxury yacht, 11 speedboats and 55 cars for his family.
An horrific shooting spree by government forces against political enemies incarcerated at Maafushi jail — the same grim establishment where Nasheed is being held — prompted an outcry and the beginning of the end of Gayoom’s rule.
The subsequent uprising — along with international pressure — eventually brought Nasheed to power in 2008.
It is the ‘forces’ of Gayoom for whom Omnia is acting. A firm that is described by Nasheed’s party as “the worst kind of mercenary outfit”.
The Maldivian Democratic Party, which Nasheed set up in 2003, is unequivocal in its condemnation of Cherie Blair’s support of the autocratic government, describing her firm as full of ‘unethical and profiteering’ people employed to ‘help wash the blood’ off the president’s hands.
‘Omnia Strategy is the very worst kind of mercenary outfit,’ says Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, an opposition spokesman.
‘It is taking possibly millions of dollars in exchange for helping a dictatorship keep a democracy hero in jail.