British PM calls for facts in defence minister row

8th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Saturday demanded an urgent report into claims that his defence minister allowed a close friend to influence government business, while offering him his full support.

Cameron's office said he did not want to wait until an internal Ministry of Defence (MoD) inquiry reports back on the allegations against Liam Fox in a fortnight, but wanted a preliminary report setting out the facts by Monday.

However, a spokeswoman for Downing Street told AFP that Fox, a member of the prime minister's Conservative party, still had Cameron's "full confidence".

Fox ordered the MoD inquiry on Friday into claims that his former flatmate and best man, Adam Werritty, posed as his advisor and had privileged access to him despite having no official government role or security clearance.

But the row intensified with new allegations in Saturday's newspapers that Werritty had brokered a meeting in Dubai in June between Fox and a company hoping to sell phone call encryption technology to the British military.

The claims overshadowed Fox's first visit to Libya on Friday and Saturday, during which he announced £500,000 (580,000 euros, $778,000) new funding for the National Transitional Council's fight against arms proliferation.

The defence secretary declined to answer questions about Werritty when quizzed by journalists in Tripoli, according to the BBC.

In London, Cameron's spokesman initially said he would wait for the outcome of the MoD inquiry, led by the ministry's top civil servant.

But as the row gathered pace, Downing Street said Cameron had asked another senior civil servant to look at the initial findings of the MoD inquiry and ensure they were on his desk on Monday.

"The prime minister has asked the cabinet secretary to examine the initial findings of the Ministry of Defence permanent secretary's review, and report his conclusions to him on Monday," a spokeswoman said.

She could not say whether that early report would be made public.

Saturday's allegations come after Fox admitted this week that he met Werritty on an official visit to Sri Lanka in July, and the revelation that Werritty visited Fox 14 times in 16 months at the MoD in London.

Fox has denied suggestions that his friendship has threatened national security, and an MoD spokesman said allegations of wrongdoing were "baseless".

According to The Independent, the Financial Times and The Guardian, Werritty set up a meeting with Fox and members of the Porton Group, including chief executive Harvey Boulter, while Fox was in Dubai on official business in June.

Citing Boulter, the newspapers said much of the meeting involved a discussion of Cellcrypt, a technology developed by one of the group's companies which they were interested in selling to the MoD.

They discussed the possibility that British soldiers from Afghanistan use it to call home without being detected by the Taliban, or allowing Libyan rebels to use it to avoid detection by Moamer Kadhafi's forces, the FT said.

The MoD said the Dubai meeting was a private affair and no officials from the ministry were present, and pointed to the inquiry underway.

But Jim Murphy, defence spokesman for the opposition Labour party, called for Fox to make a full statement to parliament on the issue, saying: "An inquiry is important but so too are direct answers.

"There are accusations mounting. It is time for the avoidance to stop and for the answers to start."

© 2011 AFP

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