Feature Article

Sri Lanka links to the fore in Liam Fox political storm

[TamilNet, Friday, 14 October 2011, 04:48 GMT]
Amid the relentless political and media storm over British Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s relationship with Mr Adam Werritty, a close friend who has been operating as an unofficial ‘advisor’ to him on security and foreign policy matters, the duo’s links to Sri Lanka’s regime have been regularly popping up. By Friday, three separate types of links had been established in a series of reports filed over the past week by The Times, The Guardian, the Financial Times, and The Daily Telegraph newspapers, as well as Channel 4 and BBC television. The main opposition Labour party has in recent days tabled several questions in Parliament over Dr. Fox’s links to Sri Lanka, while the seemingly ceaseless revelations by the media are unsettling both Dr. Fox’s hitherto staunch allies in the right wing of the ruling Conservative Party, as well as senior Ministry of Defence staff and top military officers.

Dr Liam Fox
Dr Liam Fox
Adam Werrity
Adam Werrity
Dr. Fox was Friday accused of running a ‘shadow foreign policy’ on Sri Lanka and undermining Britain’s official foreign policy, a mysterious trust he set up to solicit private sector contributions to ‘development’ in Sri Lanka – with Mr. Werritty as its key contact - seems to have done nothing other than fund his visits to the island, and now it appears that Mr. Werritty’s globe-trotting to numerous places Dr. Fox was also visiting on official business, has been partly funded by a corporate intelligence company with “a close interest” in Sri Lanka.

The media storm first erupted a week ago when it emerged that Mr. Werritty had been accompanying the Defence Secretary to sensitive security- or foreign policy-related meetings (with foreign government officials, defence industrialists, and even several US generals), without the security clearance or sometimes even the knowledge of the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Werritty, Dr. Fox’s best man and former flat mate, has no security clearance or official role, but has been handing out business cards describing him as an ‘advisor’ to Dr. Fox. The Defence Secretary has three official special advisors.

Mr. Werritty, media reports also reveal, had visited Dr. Fox 22 times at the Ministry of Defence in the 18 months he has been Defence Secretary, and had – on Dr. Fox’s instructions – been given access to his official diary.

Mr. Werritty had also met with Dr. Fox on 18 different foreign visits over the last 16 months – raising questions about who he was acting for in these private meetings.

Mr. Werritty, it has also transpired, has long been a key ‘unofficial’ aide for Dr. Fox in his dealings with the Sri Lankan regime, accompanying the Defence Secretary to meetings with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister GL Peiris, and flying out ahead of Dr. Fox’s visits to Sri Lanka to liaise with Colombo officials.

Dr. Fox and the Rajapska regime

The Guardian and The Times newspapers have this week elaborated on how Dr. Fox’s insistence on maintaining close links with President Rajapaksa’s regime had undermined British strategy on Sri Lanka

The British government has adopted an arm's-length policy on Sri Lanka, calling for an independent inquiry into war crimes, as well as - since 2006 - maintaining a policy of limiting development work to urgent humanitarian assistance and de-mining areas in the former warzones, The Guardian said.

However, Dr. Fox has sought to maintain highly public contacts with President Rajapaksa and his government.

For example, Dr. Fox was a guest of the Sri Lankan Government four times in less than 12 months before the May 2010 UK election. In other words, since after the mass killings of 40,000 Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan forces in 2009.

Dr. Fox also unilaterally despatched five British naval offices to President Rajapaksa’s second inauguration in February 2010.

In June 2010, Dr. Fox met the Sri Lankan foreign minister in Singapore, along with Mr. Werritty and MoD officials.

In December 2010, while Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague opted not to meet President Rajapaksa when he visited Britain, the Defence Secretary insisted on doing so, saying it was a ‘private’ matter – that didn’t prevent Colombo from giving the meeting widespread publicity as an official meeting.

And despite having been forced to cancel a public lecture in Colombo, Dr. Fox rescheduled it and visited Sri Lanka in July this year to deliver.

The lecture was reportedly approved by the Foreign Office. But Channel 4 television revealed this week that Sri Lankan leaders had during Dr. Fox’s visit approached Mr. Werritty, who flew out ahead to meet with them, to arrange arms sales, to which the ‘advisor’ had agreed.

In a hard hitting editorial on Wednesday (which following another on Monday), The Times slammed Dr. Fox’s conduct.

“Dr Fox appears to have been conducting his own independent foreign policy [on Sri Lanka]. That policy is wrong in itself and Dr Fox had no legitimate business pursuing it. … Regardless of whether Mr Werritty acted as an intermediary, these relations are rotten,” the paper said.

On Friday The Guardian newspaper reported that the Labour opposition was urging the government to “come clean” on Dr. Fox's work in Sri Lanka and whether it might have contravened the government's official policy.

And a senior civil service source told the paper Dr. Fox had been operating a "maverick foreign policy" on Sri Lanka.

The ‘Sri Lanka Development Trust’

The UK media has also now taken a close interest in a mysterious trust that Dr. Fox had set up in 2010 supposedly to help Sri Lanka’s post-war development.

The Times reported on Monday that the ‘Sri Lanka Development Trust’ had paid for three of Dr. Fox’s trips to Sri Lanka since the end of the war.

(Contributions to the cost of Dr. Fox’s trips were also received from the Sri Lankan government via its London embassy, The Guardian added Friday.)

Then on Thursday the Financial Times reported that the Trust “had achieved nothing other than to pay for [Dr. Fox’s] trips to the country.”

The source for this, and other details of the Trust, was no less than Lord Bell, a friend of Dr. Fox for 30 years, and whose public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, had represented the Sri Lankan government until last December.

The Trust consists of two funds, the “Sri Lanka Infrastructure Development Fund” and the “Sri Lanka Charitable Fund”, Lord Bell said.

The Trust is not registered as a charity or a company in the UK and it remains unclear who works for it, how it is funded or what it does, the Financial Times and The Times said.

“I’m not aware that any activity [by the Trust] exists yet [in Sri Lanka] or that anybody has invested any money in it,” Lord Bell told the FT.

But there had been discussions between Dr. Fox- after he became Defence Secretary - and the Sri Lankan government as well as the Central bank governor, he added.

On Friday, The Guardian published a lengthy piece on the Sri Lanka Development Trust and the involvement of Dr. Fox and Mr. Werritty.

“The defence secretary was intimately involved in negotiations with the Sri Lankan regime [regarding the Trust] as recently as last summer,” the paper said, also quoting Lord Bell.

Dr. Fox has claimed he had ended his involvement in the trust after he took up the ministerial post after the Conservative election victory in May 2010 (actually he appointed Mr. Werritty to the Trust, The Guardian reports).

But Lord Bell contradicts this. He told The Guardian that discussions took place in summer 2010 in which Dr. Fox agreed with the governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka that the trust would invest in roadbuilding and other infrastructure projects using private investment.

Lord Bell added, crucially, that "of course" part of Dr. Fox’s strategy was to improve the Sri Lankan regime's reputation abroad.

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s investigations corroborated those of the Financial Times and The Times: its inquiries in Colombo could not establish any activity the Trust or its subsidiaries have so far carried out in the island.

“Aid experts, senior politicians and officials in Sri Lanka said they had no knowledge of the trust. Neither the trust nor its subsidiaries are registered by the National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organisations, a prerequisite for any such project,” the paper said.

"I have my ear pretty close to the ground and I doubt a major new reconstruction project in the north [of Sri Lanka] could get going without my knowledge and I have never heard of this trust," one senior aid official in Colombo said.

However, the Guardian’s investigation uncovered an interesting detail. The Trust had initially been registered to 40 George Street (an address close to the Houses of Parliament in London).

Mr. Werritty’s bankrollers

Interestingly, this address is also where the offices of 3G - or the "Good Governance Group" - which is chaired by Chester Crocker, a former US official in the Ronald Reagan administration, are located, the paper added.

G3 is a company that specialises in strategic analysis, international security and risk management. (Crocker, by the way, also serves on the board of Bell Pottinger in the US).

And in a separate exclusive investigation, also published Friday, The Times revealed another important detail: G3 “has longstanding links with the Defence Secretary in connection with his attempts to get private business to back reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka.”

Sources close to G3 told The Times they believed that another recent donation of £15,000 to a not-for-profit company, called Pargav, was intended to go towards charitable work.

And another company, Tamares Real Estate, an investment firm (and the largest landholder in Las Vegas), paid £3,000 to Pargav to support the work that it was doing supposedly to promote “peace initiatives.”

In fact, Pargav is run by Mr. Werritty, and these (and other) monies had been spent to fund the luxury flights and hotels the ‘advisor’ had used when globe-trotting to meet Dr. Fox in locations ranging from the United States and Spain to the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Singapore.

Pargrave is yet to file any accounts.


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