Saturday, October 15, 2011

Desert Fox

SO Tory Defence Minister Liam Fox has found himself defenceless. Once fancied by the Thatcher faithful to step into her shoes, so to speak, the Scots GP has stepped down, sparing David Cameron from the embarassment of removing his one-time leadership rival, before anything else came out.

The Fox Affair has centred on his relationship with a friend called Adam Werritty, who joined him for trips and top-level meetings yet had no official place in either the government or the Ministry of Defence. The Times reported last Monday:

"He maintained such a close relationship with Dr Fox that when he undertook “James Bond” style trips to Iran in the months before last year’s election, mutual friends assumed it was on behalf of the Defence Secretary".

On Friday documents appeared which showed that Werritty, who called himself the Minister's adviser, though Fox insisted they were just good friends, had received £147, 000 from certain companies interested in influencing government policy. That was quite generous if it was just so Fox could have the company of his best man on trips to Dubai and other destinations.

On the other hand, they were travelling first-class and staying at five-star hotels. Meeting foreign heads of state and generals. Perhaps like Cameron amd the Royals they helped drum up trade for Britain's armaments industry. Fox could have taken along a civil servant from the minsitry. Having a mate along whose salary and fares were paid by private benefactors would save expense to the taxpayer.

If only Fox had pointed this out perhaps he would have earned the public's gratitude, instead of arousing suspicion by denying everything. As it was, people who observed Dr.Fox's peregrinations wondered why, with three highly paid advisers employed at the MoD he preferred to be assisted by Mr.Werrity, and if they were not just travelling on official business, what purposes were being served.

It wasn't all work, but then after a visit to "our boys" in Afghanistan or Iraq, the minister needed some relaxation.

What came out on Friday was that Werrity was the founder of Pargav Ltd., a not -for-profit company which handled money from sources including Sri Lanka and top Israeli lobbyists. One of its backers has been Tamares Real Estate, an investment company owned by Poju Zabludowicz, heir to the Israeli Soltam arms fortune.

Along with his business interests, which include real estate in Las Vegas and the Israeli settlement of Maalei Adumim, on occupied Palestinian territory, Finnish-born Zabludowicz, who now lives in London, is chairman of the British Israel Communications and Research organisation, BICOM, the main Israeli lobbying organisation in Britain.

'A spokesman for Zabludowicz said he owned a "legacy" arms business in the US, but added that it was not a significant part of his empire. Most of his assets were now in property, he said.

"Any suggestion that he has benefited from this relationship [with Pargav] would be completely wrong," he said. "For many years, Poju Zabludowicz has helped fund not-for-profit organisations, not individuals, due to his passion for the promotion of peace and understanding between peoples in the United States, Europe and the Middle East."

Yeah, right. Mr.Zabludowicz is a modest and retiring man, of generous and I'm sure laudable aims. In their report on "The Pro-Israel Lobby in Britain", a Channel Four Dispatches programme, James Jones and Peter Obore found that few of the people they interviewed seemed to have even heard of the Finnish-born philanthropist. "Our questions continually met with blank expressions from senior politicians and people in the Jewish community".

But Zabludowicz had somehow disbursed of a discreet two million pounds in donations, over three years, and BICOM had sent thirty representatives to America, to learn from the US lobbyists AIPAC, as well as working with the Conservative Friends of Israel, which has paid for numerous MPs trips to Israel. To be fair, we should note that there is also a Labour Friends, and that BICOM found former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons a job as its director.

In September 2005, as Jones and Obore tell us, Zabludowicz met with David Cameron, and through Tamares Real Estate he channeled some £15,000 to help Cameron with his successful campaign for the Tory leadership.

More recently it was reported that Poju Zabludowicz is one of the people backing the Community Security Trust (CST), headed by Gerald Ronson, which is officially concerned with protecting Jewish people and institutions in Britain, and maintains co-operation with police. Cameron spoke at the CST's dinner. praising its role. It was after receiving a report from the CST that Home Secretary Theresa May ordered Palestinian visitor Raeed Salah's arrest.

Another reported Pargav sponsor, Michael Lewis, 52, was vice-chairman of Bicom until 2007 and boss of Oceana Investments. A Conservative party donor, he also gave £13,832 to Atlantic Bridge, the charity set up by Fox and run by Werritty from Fox's parliamentary office. While Zabludowicz was helping Cameron in 2005 Lewis donated £5,000 to Fox's leadership campaign. Something about not putting all your eggs in one basket comes to mind!

A firm which reportedly donated £15, 000 to Pargav was G3 Good Governance Group, described as a private intelligence company which provides advice on risky overseas investments and investigative services. G3 says it places the "highest priority on integrity, discretion and trust", and its donation to Warrity's outfit was for "charitable" work. With offices in Mayfair and Manhattan, G3 has been chaired by Chester Crocker, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs under President Ronald Reagan, since at least 2005. It employs 32 analysts.

By a co-incidence, the Sri Lanka Development Trust has shared the same building as G3. Chester Crocker's friends say he had no involvment with Sri Lanka and had never heard of the Trust. But Liam Fox has. He set it up. Now based in Edinburgh, the Trust promotes private investment in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's civil rights record, its treatment of the Tamil minority, crushing the Tamil Tigers' revolt and rounding people up into detention camps, have been criticised both in UN reports and US diplomatic dispatches obtained by Wikileaks. Those in the Sri Lankan government most involved in the repression were worried that arms supplies and investment might be affected. Perhaps embarassingly for Dr. Fox he was on a visit to Sri Lanka when the Wikileaks material appeared.

An report from MoD Permanent Secretary Ursula Brennan was presented to the Prime Minister on Monday. In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, Ms Brennan noted that other people had been present in only four of the 22 occasions on which Mr Werritty and Dr Fox had met at the MoD. Three of those were on the subject of Sri Lanka, though the fourth concerned Israel.

"A meeting last year at the Ministry of Defence between Defence Secretary Liam Fox and the incoming UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, will form a key part of the inquiry into the relationship between Dr Fox and his best man, Adam Werritty. Questions will also be raised about a dinner Mr Werritty helped arrange at the Herzliya Conference in February this year.

"The JC can reveal that Mr Werritty was considered to be Dr Fox's "chief of staff" by some of those who dealt with him, although he had no official job within the MoD. Dr Fox was forced to admit this week that his friend should not have been present at a sensitive meeting at the MoD with the ambassador-elect.

"The Defence Secretary is known as a champion of Israel within the government. Speaking at the Herzliya Conference in February, which Mr Werritty also attended, he urged tougher sanctions against Iran, Mr Werritty's area of expertise."

The Israel connection also entwines indirectly with a more private - but MoD related -issue about which questions have been raised. Lee Petar, a former director of communications at BICOM, has a PR company, Tetra Strategy, which has Zabludowicz's Tamares company among its clients.

But this sub-plot enters UK-US business relations, and the mirky borderland between the "Defence establishment" and the business world. Tetra was employed by Harvey Boulter, a Dubai-based British businessman whose company is called Porton Capital, or the Porton Group. Maybe it is a coincidence that the Ministry of Defence chemical and biological warfare laboratories are on Porton Down in Wiltshire. Boulter's company specialises in military and medical technology. It wanted advice from Tetra on a claim against the American company 3M.

A statement issued by Tetra on Monday said: "The case concerned the development of new MRSA testing technology developed by the MoD. Tetra introduced its client to Adam Werritty in March 2011, widely believed at the time to be an official adviser to Dr Liam Fox. The purpose of the introduction was to brief the MoD on the litigation."

A Porton subsidiary, Acolyte, had taken on the technology called BacLite which it believed could detect the suberbug MRSA. Porton then made a deal with 3M to sell its shares in Acolyte, but the deal later ran into trouble, with 3M claiming the technology didn't work, while Porton said the US firm was not properly developing it.

Mr Boulter claims Adam Werritty agreed to set up a meeting at which both commercial ventures would be raised with Dr Fox. He thought the issue would be raised in Cabinet, and that the British government might think again about a knighthood for 3M's British-born chief executive George Buckley.

It appears there was also discussion about mobile phones being provided for British service personnel in Afghanistan, and their possible usefulness in assisting British-backed rebels in Libya.

It may be that Prime Minister David Cameron and his chums won't miss Dr.Liam Fox, who was a jumped-up state school boy without the Old Etonians' connections or finesse. Notwithstanding his medical background he made no secret of his wish to asssit private treatment at the expense of the NHS. Top military chiefs may have accepted his cuts but not his seeming to assume he knew their job.

As a right-wing backed leadership rival Fox was possibly brought into Cameron's Cabinet tent so he could be inside pissing out rather than the other way. Following his resignation Cameron focussed on praising his supposed success in clearing up the mess that Labour allegedly left. But he must be keeping his fingers crossed that not too much of a tangled web is going to be unravelled.

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