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British inquiry finds former minister broke rules

LONDON — Britain's former defense secretary ignored repeated warnings and violated government rules of conduct by meeting dozens of times with a close friend who was allowed to sit in on meetings and participate in diplomatic events despite having no official role, according to a scathing report released Tuesday.

The report said that Liam Fox showed a serious "failure of judgment" in his dealings with Adam Werrity, who had been the best man at Fox's wedding. Werrity met the former defense secretary 22 times at his office in London and 18 times on overseas trips since Fox took up his Cabinet post in May 2010. During part of that time, Werrity handed out business cards falsely billing himself as an adviser to Fox.

Revelations about Werrity's extraordinary access forced Fox to step down on Friday, making him the highest-ranking Cabinet minister to resign from Britain's ruling coalition. The scandal has been deeply embarrassing for Prime Minister David Cameron, who said Tuesday that he was "sorry to see" Fox go but remained committed to transparency in government.

The 10-page report by Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell, Britain's highest-ranking civil servant, concluded that some of Fox's meetings with Werrity were inappropriate because they involved government business, and that they lent the impression of a conflict of interest.

Of special concern was the fact that Werrity headed a company funded by donors to the Conservative Party, some of whom also gave money to Fox when the Conservatives were the opposition party. And because of the "frequency, range and extent" of the meetings between the two men in such far-off places as Dubai and Sri Lanka, outsiders could easily assume that Werrity spoke for Fox and the British government, the report said.

However, there was no evidence that Fox benefited financially from his relationship with Werrity or that national security or foreign policy were ever compromised, the report added.

Fox hailed those findings, but acknowledged in a statement "that it was a mistake to allow the distinctions between government and private roles to become blurred, and I must take my share of the responsibility for this."

An ideological heir to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Fox advocated a close relationship with the United States and Israel, was skeptical of Britain's involvement in the European Union, and helped defuse criticism that Cameron was soft on defense.

British inquiry finds former minister broke rules 10/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 11:21pm]
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