Cherie Blair's law firm is working for the Ministry of Justice in Astana, Kazakhstan, while her husband, Tony Blair is an adviser to president Nursultan Nazarbayev
Cherie Blair is being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for a few months' legal work by Kazakhstan, whose autocratic president employs her husband as an official adviser.
Mrs Blair's law firm Omnia Strategy agreed a deal with Kazakhstan's Ministry of Justice earlier this year to conduct a review of the country's "bilateral investment treaties".
The first stage of the review, which was expected to take as little as three months, is worth £120,000, sources have told The Sunday Telegraph.
A second phase of the project is worth a further £200,000 to £250,000 for another three to four months' work, it is understood. Omnia Strategy, which Mrs Blair set up in 2011, also has an option to complete a third stage of the legal project for the Ministry of Justice at a fee to be decided, according to the source.
Mrs Blair is understood normally to charge clients £1,150 an hour but will bill the Kazakh taxpayer at a reduced rate of £975 an hour if the Ministry of Justice, based in the capital Astana, continues to employ Omnia on the legal review into its third stage.
The deal with Omnia was agreed in February this year and work on the project is thought to have begun in March. The legal review is ongoing although Omnia is refusing to comment, citing client confidentiality.
There is no evidence that Tony Blair had any influence in helping his wife to win the lucrative contract. But critics of the former prime minister will inevitably be concerned over his apparent influence in Kazakhstan, an oil and gas-rich state larger than Western Europe.
Mr Blair has always insisted that his various advisory roles – paid and unpaid – are kept strictly separate from any other commercial deals in which he is involved. He has vehemently denied any accusations of a conflict of interest in any of the countries in which he works.
Mrs Blair's work in Kazakhstan follows in her husband's footsteps. In late 2011, Mr Blair began advising Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country's all-powerful president who has ruled Kazakhstan ever since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Mr Blair, through his private consultancy Tony Blair Associates, acts as adviser to the presidential office and other ministries on improving Kazakhstan's governance.
The deal between Kazakhstan and Tony Blair Associates is reported to be worth as much as £7 million a year.
Mr Blair has been criticised for his close relationship with Mr Nazarbayev, who has been accused of human rights abuses including the shooting dead of 15 civilians in a crackdown on protests in December 2011, a few months after Mr Blair began advising the Kazakhstan government. Mr Blair denies making any personal profit from the advisory role.
Omnia Strategy's lucrative deal is also likely to attract criticism. Mrs Blair, an eminent QC, remains best known in the legal world as an ardent defender of civil liberties and human rights. Kazakhstan has been accused of suppressing dissent.
Human Rights Watch, in its latest report on the country, concluded: "Kazakhstan's poor human rights record continued to deteriorate in 2013, with authorities cracking down on free speech and dissent through misuse of overly broad laws."
The Sunday Telegraph understands Omnia has negotiated the work with the Kazakh Ministry of Justice, whose fee will be ultimately picked up by the Kazakh taxpayer. It is not clear if the work was put out to tender and Omnia has refused to comment on this.
Omnia Strategy, which is based in an anonymous office block overlooking Hyde Park in central London, is advising Kazakhstan on the legal obligations of bilateral investment treaties.
The legal firm describes itself on its website as a "pioneering international law firm that provides strategic counsel to governments, corporate and private clients".
The source said that Omnia is not paid directly by the Kazakh government but through a consultancy, based in Astana but which has offices in London and which is acting as a third-party agent in the agreement. It is understood Kazakhstan is also paying all Omnia's expenses including accommodation, travel and translation costs in producing a series of reviews and reports.
Mrs Blair, Omnia's chairman, is, according to the source, being described as "primary counsel" in the work while Omnia's managing director, Julia Yun Hulme, is the point of contact for day-to-day running of the contract. At least two other lawyers working for Omnia are involved in the legal review.
The connections between the Blairs and the Kazakh government were cemented earlier this summer when both Omnia Strategy and Tony Blair Associates were listed as "key participants" in a Kazakhstan "investment roadshow" which took place in London over two days in June.
While Mr Blair's commercial success since leaving Downing Street in 2007 has been widely reported – although he denies his fortune is anywhere close to the £100 million that has been suggested – Mrs Blair has quietly achieved her own commercial successes.
Omnia Strategy has also acted for the Albania government in an oil dispute in a case which earned Omnia as much as £300,000 in legal fees last year. This year, Mr Blair became an adviser to the newly elected left-wing government in Albania. There is no suggestion of a link between the two.
Mr and Mrs Blair between them own a property empire that includes a mansion in Buckinghamshire and six houses in London. Reports have suggested that the portfolio is worth in the region of £25 million.
Last week, Omnia refused to comment on its work in Kazakhstan.