Fox/Werritty Sri Lankan jollies come under fresh scrutiny

Disgraced former defence secretary Liam Fox and his sidekick Adam Werritty's gallivanting round Sri Lanka came under fresh scrutiny last night, reports Shamik Das.

Disgraced former defence secretary Liam Fox and his sidekick Adam Werritty’s gallivanting round Sri Lanka came under fresh scrutiny last night.

Yesterday’s Newsnight investigated Fox’s Sri Lankan trips and links to the SL leadership, talking to Sri Lankan exiles about Fox’s closeness to President Rajapaksa, who has many human rights questions hanging over his head, relating to the civil war in the island nation.

Reporter Richard Watson revealed:

“I’ve found there’s been a lot of fear, even in London, about speaking openly about this story, such is the power of the President of Sri Lanka, who many say has a poor record in human rights and freedom of speech.”

Posing the question:

“Given that record, what was Dr Fox and Adam Werritty doing developing a relationship with that man?”

Here’s what he found out:

Last February on Left Foot Forward, long before the present furore, we posed key questions for Fox over his closeness to the Colombo regime; here they are again:

• Why did Liam Fox go to Sri Lanka three times to meet its president last year, while William Hague did not go once? In what official capacity did he make his August and November visits?

• Why did he attend Rajapaksa’s national party convention? Can he ensure this did not undermine ongoing multilateral efforts at defending human rights, at a critical time for Sri Lanka?

Why has he been pointedly discreet about these visits – putting out a press release for his visit to Afghanistan last year, but not one in three trips to Sri Lanka?

It emerged last week that Liam Fox has been accepting large donations from defence firms; can he ensure that this does not interfere with his official responsibilities as shadow secretary of state for defence, and as a representative of the UK government, when he makes repeated visits to government officials in war-torn countries?

We further reported, in March last year:

Liam Fox’s paid-for trips to Sri Lanka, which were revealed by Left Foot Forward last month, are mentioned today in a BBC investigation into MPs’ overseas trips paid for by foreign governments.

The BBC, however, has overlooked an incident raised on our original story. In November 2009, Liam Fox spoke in favour of the Sri Lankan government in a Commons debate without mentioning he was in Sri Lanka the week before to attend the president’s party convention.

As Left Foot Forward said at the time, the incident occured amid rising allegations of war crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan army, and talks in Brussels of suspending a privileged trade agreement between Sri Lanka and the EU over human rights issues – which was indeed suspended last month.

All the focus today is on Sir Gus O’Donnell’s report into Fox’s conduct, which is expected to conclude he broke the Ministerial Code – yet this is far from the end of the scandal.

Key questions remain, about Fox’s overseas visits – to Sri Lanka, as posed above, and elsewhere; the funding of Werritty; the funding of Fox’s office; the exact role of Werritty; what David Cameron knew (indeed, what he did or didn’t want to know, failing as he did to ask the right questions and grasp the seriousness of the affair); what Chris Grayling, George Osborne, William Hague and Michael Gove knew of Werritty’s Atlantic Bridge-linked activities…

For one thing, however, we can thank Mr Werritty – the opaqueness of Big Lobbying has been blown wide open, and looks finally like being regulated, dragged screaming into the sunlight.

See also:

Look Left – Cameron bids Fox ‘thank you and goodbye’Shamik Das, October 14th 2011

Grayling dragged into Fox/Werritty scandal – are Osborne, Gove and Hague next?Shamik Das, October 10th 2011

Weak Cameron will struggle to fire FoxDaniel Elton, October 10th 2011

Fox’s Sri Lankan jolly under scrutinyElliott Fox, March 23rd 2010

Questions Fox must answer over close links to Sri Lankan “dictator”Elliott Fox, February 18th 2010

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