By Uvindu Kurukulsauriya –
It was Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark Thatcher who has done business in Sri Lanka with his local front man, an arms dealer Ravi Wettesinghe in the late 1980s. His business dealings at the time his mother was the Prime Minister, was the subject of much press attention.
Both Ravi Wettesinghe and Mark Thatcher were investigated for running shady operations by South African and Sri Lankan authorities in 1998. According to “Thatcher’s Fortunes: The Life and Times of Mark Thatcher” both Mark and Ravi Wettasinghe met President D.B. Wijetunga in Sri Lanka. Ravi Wettesinghe fled the country and never returned to Sri Lanka. Now Dr. Liam Fox and his controversial partner Adam Werritty are in the centre of a scandal.
In early 2010, I was asked to meet with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband to brief him on the situation in Sri Lanka on media suppression. When I contacted one of my colleagues and informed him about my meeting, he told me that there was no point in meeting politicians as they are playing with the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. He further said the Sri Lankan government had even bribed British opposition parliamentarians. He also said that one of his close friends when visiting Sri Lanka recalled seeing Liam Fox and some other man embracing two girls and they were acting like lovers at the Hilton night club, but added that certain identification with the exception of Fox was impossible. He said it looks as if the Sri Lankan government was supplying prostitutes to influential foreigners in order to white wash their atrocities.
Later that story was largely circulated within the Sri Lankan community living in London. Subsequently when I discussed the Fox scandal with the Guardian and Sunday Mail journalists I told them about this story. However, some of them dismissed it saying Fox’s sexual orientation was different.
“Gossip is certainly circulating” Chris Grayling, the employment minister and a friend of Fox told the BBC when asked if Dr. Fox was gay. On the eve of his marriage in 2005, Dr. Fox addressed what he described as “smears” that he was “either a playboy” or “wild man, or gay”. Chris Grayling, under pressure from the media, stressed that Fox was a “happily married” man. He said, “If you look around the Westminster village, you will find all kinds of wild gossip about all kinds of individuals in all parties. That does not mean they are not good at their jobs. I have known Liam for many years, I have known Liam and his wife, and they have always struck me as being a very happily married couple. The reality is that the gossip is certainly circulating.
Today pictures have emerged in the Telegraph of Liam Fox caught in an embrace with a porn actress.
On Friday October 14,the Guardian reported, “With political officers in London telling Sri Lanka that Labour was almost certain to lose the coming elections, Fox was seen in Colombo as a major potential asset. Researchers working for human rights
organisations during this period were so concerned by indications that the Sri Lankan government might be seeking to enlist Fox’s support to ease restrictions on arms imports from the UK to the island nation, they raised their worries with the Foreign Office in London. Sources say now that they received specific information that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the feared Defence Secretary and the brother of the president, had asked Fox to lobby for more access to British weapons.
The Guardian, The Sunday Leader and Colombo Telegraph joint investigating team found that there is a relation between the owner of Bell Pottinger, Dr. Fox and his controversial partner Adam Werritty.
The Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s friend for 30 years Lord 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”.
The Defence Secretary Liam Fox was intimately involved in negotiations with the Sri Lankan regime as recently as last summer, according to Lord Bell, agreeing on 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.
In June 2010, Fox met the Sri Lankan foreign minister in Singapore, along with Werritty and Ministry of Defence (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 road building and other infrastructure projects using private investment.
Sri Lanka’s Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal confirmed to BBC on October 22, 2010 that the government had hired a few PR companies. But he refused to reveal the amounts paid. “So many people are spending huge sums of money to tarnish our country’s image. Media institutions are also involved in this. We will do everything possible to boost that image and I believe it is our duty,” he told the BBC.
According to informed sources the Sri Lankan government had paid the British PR firm about £3m ($4.7m) last year to try to enhance the country’s post-war image. Bell Pottinger’s motto displayed on its website is “Better reputations, better results.”
When a request was made under the Freedom of Information Act, the Chairman of Bell Pottinger’s parent company, Chime Communications, told the BBC Sinhala service that the Act only covers UK government departments and certain contractors. “Further I must tell you all our client contracts are commercially confidential – consequently we cannot supply the information you seek,” Lord Bell said last year.
“Liam Fox told the house about the Trust on Monday. It is clearly not a full explanation. If he was still striking deals with the Sri Lankans last summer, how does that fit with official UK foreign policy? He has to explain these negotiations. You cannot have a situation where a government minister is appearing to run a completely separate foreign policy from that of the government,” Kevan Jones, shadow defence minister, said. 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.
Dr. Fox has been a long standing friend of the Sri Lankan government and relations go back nearly 15 years. His name became familiar to Sri Lankan people after the Liam Fox agreement between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe. Contributions to the cost of the trips were also received from the Sri Lankan government via its London embassy.
In fact, Opposition MP Ravi Karunanayake, told The Sunday Leader last week that in 2010 he together with Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had a breakfast meeting with Liam Fox and Adama Werritty. This was not the first time Karunanayake met the duo as a photograph published in The Sunday Leader in 2009 also showed Karunanayake posing with Fox and Werritty. “Adam was introduced to us as Fox’s personal aide,” Karunanayake said.
Ravi Karunanayake and Ranil Wickremesinghe were not the only members of the main opposition UNP Fox and Werritty met with. The pair also had a meeting with Presidents Counsel and 0pposition MP Wijedasa Rajapaksa at the Hilton Bar last year.
David Cameron said at Prime Minister’s question time, that he was waiting for the O’Donnell inquiry before deciding whether to sack Fox. “I ask people to have a little patience and wait for the facts to be established,” he said.