Let’s summarise what we know so far.
Bell Pottinger is the PR firm that has taken, among its clientele, the wife of Syria’s President Assad, the Pinochet dictatorship, the Lukashenko dictatorship, and the Bahraini government. Bell Pottinger is overseen by Lord Bell, who was previously an advisor to Margaret Thatcher.
The conduct of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy nowadays is more expensive. Not only are the diplomats posted abroad for this purpose having to be paid for. There are other newcomers too. That is in the form of public relations companies.
One such company, Patton Boggs, made its debut in the United States. Some of its staff not only sat through conferences at the Sri Lanka Embassy in the US, but did most of the public relations, lobbying and legal work. Of course, the company collected a neat packet in dollars.
There is now an addition in Britain. They have hired Bell Pottinger. It went to work this week marketing President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s address to the nation at Thursday’s Independence Day ceremonies in Kandy. The company will now collect a packet in Pounds Sterling.
Werrity travelled alongside Liam Fox around the world, accompanying him to Sri Lanka. Werritty attended meetings for lobbyists for the Sri Lankan government. These lobbyists were trying to block the UN investigating accusations of war crimes, in the aftermath of the war with the Tamils.
Liam Fox travelled to Sri Lanka with Adam Werritty in order to discuss politics with senior Sri Lankan officials. One Sri Lankan official – likely the Foreign minister GL Peiris – claims to have recruited Werritty as a lobbyist for the Sri Lankan government. Werritty was portrayed by Liam Fox as a UK government official, when he was not.
The FT reports today, that there are seeming links between Bell Pottinger personnel, and the fund established to fund Mr Werritty’s trips abroad:
A trust set up by Liam Fox to help Sri Lanka’s development appears to have achieved nothing other than to pay for the MP’s trips to the country, one of his allies has told the Financial Times.
The defence secretary on Monday told the Commons he had worked with people in “business, banking and politics” to create the trust as a “mechanism” to allow reconstruction funding through the private sector.
“This was called the Sri Lanka Development Trust, which seeks to promote post-conflict reconciliation and development in Sri Lanka,” he said. “The aim was to use a proportion of profits made to fund development projects in Tamil communities. Neither myself, Mr Werritty nor others sought to receive any share of the profits.”
According to Lord Bell, an ally of the MP, the trust consists of two funds, the “Sri Lanka Infrastructure Development Fund” and the “Sri Lanka Charitable Fund”.
Last year a memorandum of understanding was struck between the Sri Lankan government and the two funds to carry out future work together.
Yet neither fund is up and running, according to Lord Bell, whose lobbying firm Bell Pottinger represented the Sri Lankan government until last December.
He said the two funds were linked to the Sri Lanka Development Trust, which is not registered as a charity or a company in the UK. It remains unclear who works for it, how it is funded or what it does.
“I’m not aware that any activity exists yet or that anybody has invested any money in it,” said Lord Bell. There have been discussions with the Sri Lankan government and the governor of the central bank in the country, he added.
Yet the trust paid for at least three return trips between London and Colombo – worth about £7,500 – for Dr Fox while he was in opposition in 2008 and 2009.
Emma Reynolds, a Labour MP, said it was “odd” that the Sri Lanka Development Trust “doesn’t seem to be doing any development in Sri Lanka”: “Dr Fox needs to explain exactly what this trust is, who is behind it, where its money comes from and where the money goes.”
The trust’s current address is an office in Edinburgh but it was previously located at 40 George Street in London’s West End. This is also the headquarters of an investigative company, G3 – or Good Governance Group – which offers services such as “business intelligence”.
G3 is chaired by Chester Crocker, a former US politician under Ronald Reagan, who sits on the US board of Bell Pottinger Communications. He refused to comment. But an ally of Mr Crocker said he had no involvement with Sri Lanka and had never heard of the trust.
Lord Bell said the infrastructure fund was designed to invest in roads and other infrastructure projects in northern Sri Lanka. The second fund would direct money into “things of a charitable nature”. Neither fund is registered with the UK Charity Commission.
Mr Fox’s aide said he could not answer questions about the trust or funds – nor suggest an alternative spokesman. “You need to ask them,” he said. “I don’t speak for them.”
Lord Bell did not know how the Sri Lanka Development Trust paid for Dr Fox’s flights without other visible activities. “I do not know an answer to your question. I can understand why you are asking,” he said.
A few points:
- Lord Bell seems to know a fair amount about the Sri Lanka Development Trust and its charitable purposes
- Lord Bell has already admitted to Bell Pottinger being in meetings with Werritty, and Sri Lankan officials
- The address of the Sri Lankan Development Fund goes back to the company of one of Bell Pottinger’s US advisers
The Telegraph reported last year:
You won’t find the names listed under the “clients” section on the company’s website but it’s been widely reported that Bell Pottinger has worked for the oil company Trafigura and the Sri Lankan and Iranian governments. There’s an axis of earnings for you.
Still, it seems the company is coming in from the cold. Bell Pottinger’s chairman, Peter “never knowingly under-lunched” Bingle, has just signed the company up to the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA).
As well as his presence in Sri Lanka, Adam Werritty has also set up meetings with pro-Iranian lobbyists for Liam Fox.
Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chairman Peter Bingle has, in the past few days, written two fawning articles about the charisma, ethics and personality of Liam Fox, and the apparent press campaign against him, labelling Liam Fox “the Amazing Dr Fox”.
Now blogger Guido Fawkes reports:
Flying in from China to face the growing music, Michael Hintze, the donor in the spotlight regarding Liam Fox’s shadow operation, is said to have hired Lord Bell to spin for him this morning. Hintze, the chairman of the hedge fund CQS, gave Adam Werritty a desk in his Grosvenor Place office and is one of his key benefactors.
It looks like they are keeping it cosy. Richard Alston the Non-Executive Director of Bells’s Chime Communications (which owns Bell Pottinger,) also sits on the international advisory board of CQS. Bell Pottinger also represent the Sri Lankan government and have worked closely with Liam Fox in the past.