The thugs running Sri Lanka in Colombo must have loved the attention of a leading British government minister. War crimes? Who cares, hey? The Guardian reports:
Liam Fox faced fresh accusations of running a shadow foreign policy after it emerged he was involved in setting up a private investment firm to operate in Sri Lanka in apparent contravention of UK government policy, with his controversial friend Adam Werritty as its key contact.
The defence secretary was intimately involved in negotiations with the Sri Lankan regime as recently as last summer, according to Lord Bell, his friend of 30 years, agreeing a deal that allows the Sri Lankan Development Trust to operate in the country in the same period in which he now says he withdrew his involvement. The trust was a venture designed to rebuild the country’s infrastructure using private finance with a sideline in charitable projects for Tamil communities.
Labour urged the government to come clean on Fox’s work in Sri Lanka and whether it might have contravened the government’s official policy, while a senior Whitehall source said the minister had been operating a “maverick foreign policy” and it is this that will ultimately decide his political fate.
The government has adopted an arm’s-length policy on Sri Lanka, calling for an independent inquiry into alleged war crimes. Since 2006 it has also had a policy to limit development work to urgent humanitarian assistance and “de-mining” areas affected by the civil war.
Fox told the Commons on Monday he had worked with “a number” of business, banking and political contacts to establish the trust in Sri Lanka.
He named only Werritty, his close friend who is at the heart of the scandal over his unofficial role as Fox’s adviser. “Neither myself, Mr Werritty nor others sought to receive any share of the profits for assisting the trust,” he said.
In June 2010, he met the Sri Lankan foreign minister in Singapore, along with Werritty and MoD officials. “The purpose of the meeting was to make it clear that although I would no longer be able to participate in the project, the others involved would continue to do so,” he said on Monday. But Bell told the Guardian on Thursday that discussions took place last summer in which 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.
Bell, whose PR firm Bell Pottinger was employed by the Sri Lankan government until last year to improve the country’s reputation abroad, said the deal had been struck between Fox and the head of the Sri Lankan bank: “In order for these funds to operate they would need an agreement with the country. The financial interests of Sri Lanka come under the governor of the Central Bank. My understanding is that the infrastructure development fund would be set up and have an agreement with the Sri Lankan government to invest in Tamil communities in Sri Lanka. It’s a fine idea with a good sense of purpose.”
He added that “of course” part of the strategy was to improve the regime’s reputation abroad.