Senior Conservatives actively sought donations from wealthy Jewish businessmen to fund organisations run by Liam Fox’s friend Adam Werritty, the JC can reveal. The operation was part of a broader fundraising drive within the Jewish community authorised by David Cameron’s personal friend and party co-chairman Lord Feldman, although there is no suggestion he was involved in the Werritty transactions.
One senior community source told the JC that the Fox-Werritty story was about the Conservative Party raising funds, not about businessmen buying access. “The Tory party, over a number of years, sought a particular type of support from the Jewish community, on a particular basis,” he said.
On Tuesday, the report into the matter by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell revealed that Mick Davis, chair of the executive committee of the Jewish Leadership Council, was the latest high-profile member of the Jewish community to have given money to fund Mr Werritty’s not-for-profit company Pargav.
Property billionaire Poju Zabludowicz, chair of Israel advocacy group Bicom, and Michael Lewis, its former vice-chair, were drawn into the scandal after it was revealed they had funded some of Mr Werritty’s operations. Both men are Tory donors, but it is understood that they are furious at suggestions that they received any benefit or access from the payments.
The report appears to bear this out. It says: “There is no evidence that Pargav sought to win contracts from the MoD or to influence procurement decisions. Both Mr Werritty and Dr Fox are clear that Mr Werritty never lobbied Dr Fox on behalf of donors.”
The JC understands that the donors did not seek out Mr Werritty’s organisations but were, rather, actively solicited to donate by Conservative fundraisers, including the party treasurer Howard Leigh. Mr Leigh told the JC: “I am a treasurer of the Conservative Party, and so I raise money for the Conservative Party.” He would not be drawn further on the issue of Mr Werritty.
Conservative Party sources told the JC that although Lord Feldman actively encouraged fundraising from the Jewish community, he had not raised funds for Mr Fox nor did he know Mr Werritty.
Mr Zabludowicz gave £3,000 to Pargav, a not-for-profit company set up by Mr Werritty just before the closure of his charity Atlantic Bridge. Mr Lewis gave nearly £14,000 to Atlantic Bridge, which promoted contacts between right-wing thinkers in Britain and the US. He also contributed to Dr Fox’s campaign for the Conservative leadership in 2005. In 2009 Bicom funded Mr Werritty’s visit to the Herzliya security conference in Israel.
Questions still remain over a dinner organised by Mr Werritty at this year’s Herzliya conference. Diary details released by the Ministry of Defence last week showed Mr Fox’s controversial adviser helped arrange a dinner with “political figures” attended by the Secretary of State and the UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould. The Cabinet Secretary’s report confirms the meeting took place on February 6 in Tel Aviv and was a “general discussion of international affairs over a private dinner with senior Israelis”. The Israeli government has so far failed to release the names of those Israelis present.
Dr Fox has already acknowledged that Mr Werritty should not have been present at a meeting between the Defence Secretary and Mr Gould at the Ministry of Defence in September 2010. In the Cabinet Secretary’s report this was described as “a general discussion of international defence and security matters to enable Gould better to understand MoD’s perspective of the security situation in the Middle East.”
At the weekend the Independent on Sunday claimed that Mr Werritty had been debriefed by MI6 about his travels and was involved in discussions with Mossad over plans to topple President Ahmadinejad of Iran. The Times has since reported that Israeli officials had shared sensitive information about how close they were to launching a military strike on Iran because they believed he represented Dr Fox and the MoD.
The JC understands that Mr Werritty may even have travelled to Iran at Mr Fox’s behest.