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Loyal defender of Sri Lanka’s realm

It isn’t surprising that the only British politician who will be meeting Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse during his controversial visit to the UK this week is Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

Amid a storm of outrage and calls this week by Amnesty International for Britain to pursue war crimes prosecutions against Sri Lankan leaders, the Defence Secretary is going to meet President Rajapakse “in a private capacity”.

"This reflects Dr Fox's longstanding interest in Sri Lanka and his interest in, and commitment to peace and reconciliation there," a spokesman for Fox told The Guardian newspaper.

A closer look at Dr. Fox's long-standing engagement with Sri Lanka suggests otherwise.

Indeed, Dr. Fox has long been a defender of the Sri Lankan regime, despite the mounting evidence of Colombo’s war crimes and atrocities, and despite his leader, Prime Minister David Cameron also backing an international investigation into these.

Sri Lanka funded

Dr. Fox is so close to the Sri Lankan government, he visited the South Asian island three times last year – at Sri Lanka’s expense – even as international outrage mounted over the alleged war crimes, and the internment of hundreds of thousands of Tamils in militarised camps.

Of these and two other recent trips to Sri Lanka, three were paid for fully by the Sri Lankan government.

The other two are registered as paid for by an organisation calling itself the 'Sri Lankan Development Trust'. A search on Google Tuesday produced no links at all to this entity.

And Dr. Fox's visits were not 'peace' initiatives.

His November 2009 visit, for example, was to attend the National Convention of Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

His Conservative party was not in government. Neither did he meet any elected Tamil representatives during his visits.

During a BBC investigation in March this year into British MPs accepting junkets paid for by foreign governments, Dr. Fox's trips were highlighted as breaches of Parliamentary rules relating to MPs declaring overseas trips paid for by foreign governments when speaking on those countries.

For example, soon after returning from his November 2009 trip, Dr. Fox spoke in the House of Commons debate on foreign and defence affairs

Defending Sri Lanka

Even as a demands for actions against Sri Lanka’s war crimes and ongoing repression were growing stronger in the international community, Dr. Fox defended the Rajapakse regime.

“As members of the European Union, we have to be careful not to lecture too much or give too few incentives in a country that is beginning to move very much in the right direction,” he told Parliament.

During that debate Dr. Fox neither declared he was at the Sri Lankan president's party's convention just the previous week, nor disclosed the source of funding for his trip.

This was not the first time Dr. Fox had discussed Sri Lanka in parliament without making clear his material interest: the BBC said he had also done so on 30 April 2008.

Responding to the BBC's report, he was contrite, but unrepentant, saying at the time "[I] recognise that when asking one question in 2008, I should have noted an interest and will be writing to the registrar to make this clear."

During the debate in 2009, Dr. Fox cited a vague “long involvement in Sri Lanka” and again decided not declare his interests.

That obfuscation echoes his dissembling this week with regards to meeting President Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka is not the only conflict of interest Dr. Fox failed to declare.

According to The Times newspaper, whist he was Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Dr. Fox accepted £50,000 from a defence firm donor.

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