Jay Richardson

Kazakhstan government ‘tried to prevent release of Borat’

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The Kazakhstan government asked Tony Blair to prevent the release of the Borat movie, Sacha Baron Cohen has revealed.

Blair was Prime Minister when the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, made the audacious attempt to censor the 2006 film, in which Baron Cohen took his gross caricature of a Kazakh television reporter to America.

Relations between the two heads of state remained amicable however.

Since 2011 Blair has earned millions advising Nazarbayev’s autocratic regime on managing its image, attracting condemnation from human rights groups.

Speaking on comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast to publicise his new film, Grimsby, Baron Cohen recalled that Blair had contacted him “about a year after [the film’s release]”, and after he left Downing Street.

Blair allegedly told him: “You know, you put me in a difficult position because we were doing trade with Kazakhstan and you made me … you kind of embarrassed me.

“He thought it was quite funny” Baron Cohen reflected.

According to the comedian, Nazarbayev had told Blair: “Alright, I want you to stop that guy releasing his film, I want you to end Borat.”

To which Blair replied: “Listen, it’s not a dictatorship here. I can’t do that.”

Baron Cohen also recalled that after its initial hostility, Kazakhstan subsequently reassessed Borat’s publicity benefits and invited him to promote the film there, “because they realised at one point, let’s embrace him”.

However, he declined because his safety could not be guaranteed.

In 2014, the Sunday Telegraph revealed the contents of a letter sent from Blair to Nazarbayev in 2012, following the death of 14 unarmed civilians protesting against his regime.

Blair told the Kazakh president that the deaths of the protesters “tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress” his country had made.

The former MP for Sedgefield, who has been paid millions of pounds a year to give advice to Nazarbayev, went on to suggest key passages to insert into a speech the president was giving at the University of Cambridge, to defend the action.

Blair is paid through his private consultancy, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), which he set up after leaving Downing Street in 2007.

Grimsby stars Baron Cohen as a football hooligan from the fishery town who must help his estranged, super-spy brother save the world.

Mark Strong, Penelope Cruz and Rebel Wilson co-star in the comedy, which has attracted mixed reviews and opens today.

The Telegraph said: “Grimsby doesn’t ever wound quite as devastatingly as Borat or Brüno, but it’s a vital, lavish, venomously profane two fingers up at Benefits Street pity porn and the social division it fosters. I laughed, winced, gagged, then laughed even more.”

But Time Out called it “a deeply conservative film”, concluding “it may occasionally shock a laugh from you, but between those moments your face will be a rictus of horror”.