Focus on ex-Western leaders working for despots

By GEORGE JAHN
The Associated Press
Friday, March 4, 2011; 5:51 AM

VIENNA -- One is in the pay of Kazakhstan's autocrat. Another endorsed elections held by the man dubbed Europe's last dictator. A third contradicted his own president by declaring Egypt's Hosni Mubarak should stay in power.

What these men have in common: they have all been leaders or senior officials in Western governments sharply critical of the regimes they or their associates now represent.

As leaders in Europe and the United States adopt sanctions against Libya's Gadhafi clan and pledge support to Mideast pro-democracy movements, such potential conflicts of interest are coming under increasing scrutiny.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected criticism that Britain was too cozy with Moammar Gadhafi while he was in office, arguing London had a moderating influence. And his office has denied unsubstantiated claims from a Gadhafi son who says that Blair advised the Libyan Investment Authority after stepping down.

But other past leaders and officials work for foreign interests they may have frowned upon while in office.

In Austria, ex-Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer works as a consultant for Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, while former Vice-Chancellor Hubert Gorbach, on a recent trip to Belarus sponsored by its government, praised elections there as "up to West European standards."

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko is widely reviled as a chronic human rights abuser, and often described as "Europe's last dictator."

But Gorbach is not alone among former senior European officials to praise Lukashenko. Poland's Andrzej Lepper, a former deputy prime minister now facilitating business contacts between Poland, Ukraine and Belarus, calls the Belarus elections "in accordance with the principles of democracy."

Germany's Gerhard Schroeder is the most prominent example of public outcry over foreign lobbying work.

Schroeder moved almost seamlessly from the chancellorship six years ago to the leadership positions he now holds in firms linked to Russia's state-owned Gazprom, whose energy choke-hold on parts of Europe contributed to gas shortages on the continent twice in the past decade.

While chancellor, Schroeder championed the Kremlin's Nord Stream pipeline project, meant to supply Russian gas directly to Germany and secured government backing for the deal. A few months later, he became head of the project's shareholder committee with the support of Gazprom - the Russian gas consortium whose dispute with transit country Ukraine caused serious gas shortages in Europe in 2006 and 2009.

The press and public expressed outrage - but Schroeder held onto his lucrative posts.


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