New Questions over Blair's Secretive Deals; Riddle of Ex-PM's Investments in Foreign Countries

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Byline: Jason Groves and Sam Greenhill

TONY Blair faced new questions over his secretive business empire last night as it emerged one of his companies has been licensed to operate in low-tax regimes abroad.

Gibraltar, Lithuania and Liechtenstein are among the countries in which the former Prime Minister's new investment firm has obtained permission to trade.

Mr Blair - already thought to have channelled tens of millions of pounds through a complex web of companies since leaving office in June 2007 - is exploiting a loophole in the law to keep details of his earnings secret, say financial experts.

As the Tories called for an investigation into Mr Blair's complex business dealings, a spokesman for Mr Blair insisted the former Prime Minister was a 'UK resident taxpayer on all of his income'.

But the revelations about his foreign dealings are a potential embarrassment for Labour at a time when the party is trying to turn up the heat on the Tories over wealthy backers such as Lord Ashcroft.

Mr Blair will step back into frontline politics today for the first time since leaving office with a speech designed to boost Labour's election fortunes.

His appearances on the campaign trail are expected to cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds in extra security costs. Anti-war campaigners have vowed to target him, with some hoping to make a citizen's arrest for 'war crimes'.

New documents reveal that Firerush Ventures, which is controlled by Mr Blair, has been granted licences by the Financial Services Authority in this country to operate 'cross border investment services' in a string of European countries, including many with rock-bottom tax regimes.

In Gibraltar, corporation tax is 10 per cent and capital gains tax zero. Lithuania's corporation tax is 15 per cent. Liechtenstein's is between 18 and 20 per cent. In the UK, the main corporation tax rate is 28 per cent.

Sources close to Mr Blair insisted this was standard procedure for a firm of its type. No details are available about the firm's activities and it has published no accounts. It has only three directors. A spokesman for Mr Blair said: 'Firerush Ventures Ltd is a UK incorporated company that will pay UK corporation tax.'

But Tory frontbencher Greg Hands said: 'For weeks Labour politicians have been calling for more information about people's tax statuses and offshore tax havens, but clearly Tony Blair believes he can still keep things secret.

'People will want to know how much tax he is saving through using this complicated web of holding companies.'

The complex structure of the firm is identical to a separate firm, Windrush Ventures, which was set up to handle some of Mr Blair's post-Government earnings. …