British PM concerned by minister donor claims

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British Prime Minister David Cameron voiced concern Friday at claims that financial backers linked to Israel and a private security firm funded the travel of his defence minister's close friend.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox faced renewed pressure after The Times newspaper reported that donors funnelled £147,000 ($231,000, 167,000 euros) into a company set up by Adam Werritty, the minister's self-styled adviser.

Werritty, 34, who was the best man at Fox's wedding in 2005, used the cash to accompany the 50-year-old minister on a string of foreign trips and business meetings despite having no official government role, the Times said.

Civil servants were to interview Werritty for a second time on Friday over his financial dealings, as part of an investigation ordered by Cameron earlier this week into whether Fox broke a ministerial code of conduct.

Cameron's official spokeswoman said on Friday that Fox still had the prime minister's confidence, but insisted that the the inquiry would "look into all the unanswered questions".

"There are lots of questions which do draw concern, which is why this inquiry is ongoing," the spokeswoman told a daily media briefing.

The inquiry results are expected to be on Cameron's desk early next week.

The Times said a money trail linked Werritty to G3, or the Good Governance Group, an international strategic advisory firm that has strong links to Sri Lanka, the destination of several trips by Fox and Werritty.

It said there were also links to an investment company, Tamares Real Estate, owned by Poju Zabludowicz, who also heads BICOM, an organisation that lobbies on behalf of Israeli causes in Britain.

The money paid into Pargav, a not-for-profit company set up by Werritty, was spent on first class flights and upscale hotels when he went abroad with the British minister, the Times said.

A spokesman for Tamares confirmed that it paid £3,000 to Pargav but said the investment firm "has supported an organisation, not Adam Werritty."

"In any case, it's a legitimate organisation with genuine peace purposes. There is nothing wrong with supporting organisations that are trying to increase peace," the spokesman told AFP.

There was no immediate comment from G3.

Meanwhile Fox and Werritty attended a dinner in Washington with leading names from the defence industry costing £500 a head which was not declared by the defence ministry, the Daily Telegraph reported.

A spokesman for Fox said that he attended the event in a "private capacity" during a spell of annual leave.

The Daily Mail quoted an unnamed senior figure in Fox's Conservative party as saying that Fox would have to resign when the results of the inquiry are revealed.

Fox has been under pressure for days over revelations that Werritty posed as his adviser despite not having a government job, and accompanied him on 18 foreign trips since the minister took office in May 2010.

Werritty also visited Fox 22 times at the defence ministry in London during the same period and printed business cards describing himself as Fox's adviser.

He has made no public comment since the scandal blew up a week ago.

© 2011 AFP

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