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Liam Fox friend ‘funded by private intelligence firm’

[BBC, Friday, 14 October 2011 11:08 No Comment]

An investigation is examining whether Liam Fox broke rules on ministerial conduct Financial backers linked to Israel and a private intelligence firm helped fund the travels of Liam Fox’s close friend Adam Werritty, according to reports.

The Times claims they helped channel £147,000 into a company set up by Mr Werritty, who used it to join the defence secretary on trips abroad.

The lobbyist is due to be questioned again later as part of a probe into his relationship with the minister.

Mr Fox insists his friend does not work for him officially or unofficially.

The Times claims a money trail links Mr Werritty to a private intelligence company with strong interests in Sri Lanka and a property investor who lobbies the UK government on behalf of Israel.

The paper also alleges links to a venture capitalist whom it claims is "keen for stronger ties with Washington".

‘Weak leadership’

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Fox’s story was that Mr Werritty was funded by ideological backers, rather than backers of companies who wanted defence contracts.

But he said Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell was not likely to be impressed by that argument – as in effect it meant Mr Fox was using an alternative source of advice to the civil service, being paid for by private funds.

He said ultimately there could be a gap between the civil service view on taking outside advice and the political view and in the end it would be up to David Cameron to decide Mr Fox’s future.

The defence secretary has faced continuous pressure after it emerged his best man and former flat mate Mr Werritty was present on 18 of his overseas trips, including visits to Sri Lanka and Dubai, despite having no official role.

Mr Werritty had also met the defence secretary at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) 22 times since May 2010 and handed out business cards claiming he was Mr Fox’s adviser.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that the pair attended a $500 (£318) dollar-a-head dinner in Washington with senior defence industry figures which had not been declared by the MoD in its list of Mr Fox’s meetings.

The Daily Telegraph claims they were both guests at the fundraising dinner last year at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Mr Fox’s spokesman said he had been attending the event in a "private capacity" while he was on annual leave and that taxpayers’ money was not used.

‘Artificial deadline’

Labour leader Ed Miliband has accused Mr Cameron of weak leadership for not reaching a swift decision on Mr Fox’s future.

But Mr Cameron again said on Thursday that he would not make a decision on his minister’s position until all the facts had been established and the questions answered instead of meeting an "artificial deadline".

Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell is leading an investigation into claims Mr Fox broke the rules on ministerial conduct by allowing his friend access to government business.

The UK’s most senior civil servant is not expected to complete his report until next week. After an interim report into Mr Fox’s conduct was released on Monday, No 10 said serious mistakes had been made.

‘Fatal’

The Guardian reported that Mr Fox has been asked to address Conservative MPs on Monday evening in what it said was a sign of the strength of support for the defence secretary from the right of the party.

He has been asked to speak to the foreign affairs subcommittee of the influential backbench 1922 Committee.

Senior backbenchers – such as David Davis and Sir Malcolm Rifkind – say he should stay in his job, arguing the Ministry of Defence needs stable leadership while UK forces are in action in Afghanistan and Libya.

But former Conservative defence secretary Michael Portillo, who left frontline politics in 2003, said that if the allegations in The Times turned out to be correct, they could "prove fatal" for Mr Fox.

[Full Coverage]

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