Liam Fox’s business interests in Sri Lanka drove his parallel immigration policy

Liam Fox’s business interests in Sri Lanka drove his parallel immigration policy

Phil Miller, Stop Deportations Blog, 29th July 2012

  • ex-Minister of Defence planned Tamil deportations not Home Office, research indicates
  • Fox set up ‘Sri Lankan Development Trust’ to make millions from post-conflict reconstruction contracts, not just fund his overseas travel
  • Rajapaksa regime hired Bell Pottinger, a PR firm with links to Alistair Burt, the British minister who claims no Tamil deportees tortured on return
  • Tamil activists accuse foreign investors of fueling military’s “land grab”

The UK Border Agency undertakes approximately 60 charter flights per year and last year we removed over 2,000 individuals on charter flights. We continue to exploit opportunities to increase returns. This includes opening and consolidating new charter routes to Ghana, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.”
UK Immigration Minister, Damian Green, House of Commons, 7th February 2012

The British government aims to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. Charter flights are the UK Border Agency’s most draconian method of deportation, involving specially hired aircraft and over a hundred private security guards. But the Home Office’s focus on Ghana, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is inconsistent with a numbers-driven approach to immigration policy. Charter flights do not deport people to China and India, countries where most of Britain’s irregular migrants originate from.

Damian Green’s claim that his Agency was responsible for planning the new wave of deportation charter flights to Sri Lanka is particularly questionable. Green made official visits to Pakistan and Ghana last year to meet their Interior Ministers before launching deportation charter flights to these countries. However, no Home Office minsters have visited Sri Lanka since the Conservative Party formed the coalition government.

22nd February 2011:
Damian Green visits Pakistan. The first deportation charter flight from UK to Pakistan went ahead on 24th November 2011. (Photo: FCO)

27th-28th September 2011:
Damian Green visits Ghana. The first deportation charter flight from UK to Ghana went ahead on 4th November 2011. (Photo: FCO)

This is in stark contrast to Liam Fox, Britain’s disgraced former Defence Minster, who had an active relationship with the Sri Lankan regime. His ‘secretary’ even met with senior Sri Lankan officials to discuss deportations one week before the first charter flight left last June.

My last article explored how this controversial new wave of Tamil deportations serves the Sri Lankan regime’s interests. The UK Border Agency’s claim that it is safe to return Tamil refugees bestows international credibility on a regime beset with allegations of human rights violations. The mass deportations have also intimidated war crimes witnesses in the Tamil diaspora from coming forward.

This article examines Fox’s personal financial motives for abusing his public office to support the Sri Lankan regime. A fraction of Fox’s business deals were exposed in the Adam Werritty scandal last October. The Sri Lankan Development Trust (SLDT) was revealed as a mysterious Fox/Werritty enterprise which supplied £7,500 for three of Fox’s visits to Sri Lanka in 2009 and 2010 (some of which was paid for by the Sri Lankan government). In fact, the SLDT stood to gain millions in infrastructure projects, but this has so far escaped public attention.

As shadow-defence secretary, Fox used a meeting with the regime in Colombo on 13th March 2009 to suggest setting up a “Sri Lanka construction fund”. At a peak in the Sri Lankan military’s massacre of civilians, Fox was planning to “help the Sri Lankan government in handling the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war ravaged areas in the north and east [of the country]”.

 The Guardian was told by none other than Lord Bell, the founder of PR firm Bell Pottinger, that Fox met Nivard Cabraal, the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, in the summer of 2010 and agreed that a ‘Sri Lankan Development Trust‘ would invest in road building and other infrastructure projects using private investment (The Guardian, 13th October 2011).

 But the Guardian article failed to mention how much money was at stake for post-conflict reconstruction. In a speech at the opening of an HSBC branch in Jaffna, in February 2010, Cabraal had revealed that: “the Government has now launched a well-planned, integrated, accelerated development program titled “Vadakkin Vasantham.” Under this program, the Government expects to invest approximately Rs. 295 billion (US$ 2.7 billion) during the next 3 years, towards rehabilitation and development activities. This program is expected to cover the rehabilitation of roads and other transportation infrastructure, the upgrading of electricity for domestic housing and industry, water supply, agriculture and irrigation infrastructure and the improvement of the manufacturing framework”

11th February 2010: Nivard Cabraal, Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, opens HSBC branch in Jaffna, to “convey an important signal to the world that tangible progress is being made in post conflict Sri Lanka”. UK High Commissioner, Peter Hayes, attended. (Photo: Reuters)

The SLDT has shared offices with 3G (“Good Governance Group”). 3G is chaired by Chester Crocker, who also sits on the board of American division of Bell Pottinger. The Trust has since registered at a different address, which is also the headquarters of the British firm ‘Cairn Energy’ (The Guardian, 13th October 2011). The article omitted that Cairn prospected for offshore oil and gas in Sri Lanka as soon as the war finished in 2009. Cairn’s Indian subsidiary, Cairn-India secured the first of eight exploration blocks that the Sri Lankan regime is developing secretly.

Bell Pottinger was hired by the Sri Lankan government to improve the regime’s international image after the war. As part of this marketing exercise, Bell Pottinger even arranged for Cabraal to be interviewed favourably on the BBC business channel [VIDEO, 9th February 2010]. Cabraal used the opportunity to promote Sri Lanka as a destination for foreign investment and glossed over the repression of journalists .

Alistair Burt is the only other senior British politician who has traveled to Sri Lanka in this time period. Burt has been exposed as a contact for lobbyists at the notorious PR firm Bell Pottinger (TBIJ//The Independent, December 2011). As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for South Asia, Burt traveled to Sri Lanka in February 2011 to visit parts of the war-torn north. In a video filmed near Thellipalai Junction, Burt advised “reconcilliation” between the Regime and the Tamil communities [VIDEO]. Like Fox, Burt is not part of the Home Office. However, he has refuted medical evidence which documents how the Sri Lankan regime is torturing Tamils who are deported back to the island. He insisted that “there have been no substantiated allegations of mistreatment on return” (Letter to Freedom From Torture, January 2012).

Reconciliation appears impossible while the regime confiscates Tamil land. Last month, over a hundred civilians protested at Thellipalai Junction, demanding the military stop this “land grab”. One of the demonstrators, Mr Ranath, claimed the “Mahinda [Rajapaksa] regime is interested in grabbing land to be given to alien investors. They get the commission and the support to carry on” (TamilNet, 19th June 2012). Meanwhile, Liam Fox is making a visit with several other Tory MP’s to Sri Lanka this week.

Thellipellai Junction protest


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