Oliver Wright: It's the perception of a conflict of interest that also matters


Click to follow
The Independent Online

A picture began to emerge yesterday of the network of right-wing Conservative Party donors who have supported Liam Fox – and may have indirectly helped sustain the globetrotting lifestyle of his aide, Adam Werritty.

One of the businessmen known to have indirectly assisted Mr Werritty is Michael Lewis, who donated £5,000 to Dr Fox's 2005 campaign for the Tory leadership.

Mr Lewis, 52, a South Africa-born businessman who runs the fashion retailer Foschini was, until four years ago, the deputy chairman of British Israel Communications Research Council (Bicom) – Britain's most active pro-Israeli lobbying organisation. After leaving Bicom, he remained a donor.

Bicom paid for Mr Werritty to attend a conference in Israel in February 2009, where he watched Mr Fox give a speech on European-Israeli relations. Bicom's former director of communications, Lee Petar, set up a lobbying firm called Tetra Strategy, now also embroiled in the controversy around Dr Fox.

Mr Petar, who left Bicom in 2005, introduced Mr Werritty to the venture capitalist Harvey Boulter – a move that led to a controversial meeting between Mr Fox and Mr Boulter in Dubai this year without MoD officials present.

Another supporter of Mr Fox, who may have indirectly assisted Mr Werritty, is Chaim "Poju" Zabludowicz, chairman and chief donor of Bicom. Mr Zabludowicz, who is thought to be worth around £2bn and has significant property interests in Las Vegas, has donated £115,000 to the Conservative Party in the past three years.

His father, Shlomo, a survivor of Auschwitz, built up the Israeli arms company Soltam in the 1950s. After Shlomo's death in 1994, his son took over the business and most of the defence interests were sold and replaced with property investments mainly in Israel and the US. His investment firm Tenares is represented by Tetra Strategy.

Another central backer is the former Goldman Sachs banker and Tory Party donor Michael Hintze. Worth £550m, he has given £1.5m to the Tories since 2005, has given Mr Fox's former charity Atlantic Bridge £104,000, paid for several trips by Dr Fox and given Mr Werritty free office space at his London HQ. His hedge fund, CQS, covered the cost of flights and accommodation for a 2007 trip by Mr Fox to Mauritania and, later that year, to Florence. In October 2008, he flew Mr Fox – then shadow Defence Secretary – to Washington. This May, Mr Hintze arranged another transatlantic flight for Dr Fox and Mr Werritty.

These transactions have been well documented and there is nothing to suggest anything untoward. The inquiry will need to establish the extent to which this support extended to Mr Werritty – and if he was representing their interests. The ministerial code is clear: it's not just a conflict of interests that matters. It's the perception of a conflict of interest.