BBC Panorama accuses Mayor Lutfur Rahman of using public money for electoral gain

Mayor Lutfur Rahman on BBC Panorama Photo: BBC Panorama

Mayor Lutfur Rahman on BBC Panorama Photo: BBC Panorama - Credit: Archant

A BBC documentary has accused the mayor of Tower Hamlets of using public money to promote himself and secure his re-election in May.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman and the BBC's John Ware on Panorama Photo: BBC Panorama

Mayor Lutfur Rahman and the BBC's John Ware on Panorama Photo: BBC Panorama - Credit: Archant

Last night’s half-hour Panorama reported that Mayor Lutfur Rahman has given more than twice the amount of funding to Bangladeshi charities than his officers advised, and has reduced funding for other groups.

It alleged that this was done to buy influence and encourage Bangladeshis to vote for him.

It also revealed the mayor and his party received 29 times the number of mentions in the taxpayer-funded newspaper East End Life over the last year as did opposition councillors - along with 97.3 per cent of all the quotes it carried.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for local government, said yesterday he may appoint an inspector to investigate the programme’s ”serious allegations” about how Tower Hamlets Council is run.

Last night’s Panorama also reported that the mayor has given £17,000 of public money to Bengali TV station Channel S to sponsor programmes and events - alleging he receives favourable coverage as a result.

It showed the mayor being interviewed on Channel S by its founder Mohammed Ferdhaus, who was jailed for three years in February for money laundering and insurance fraud.

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Mayor Rahman, who gave a character reference for Ferdhaus during the trial, is shown in the Channel S clip saying in Bengali that viewers who “keep loving” and supporting his team will eventually all get “new, larger houses”.

The Panorama broadcast comes after a list of the BBC’s confidential sources was leaked to the mayor by a junior staffer working on the programme.

Before it was aired, Mayor Rahman said this leaked information, which he has not disclosed, revealed the programme to be “racist and Islamophobic”, as well as politically biased and in breach of BBC editorial guidelines.

The BBC rejected these accusations, saying the programme “investigates matters of legitimate public interest regarding an elected official”.

The mayor hit back at Panorama last night, calling it “unprofessional, shoddy and biased”, in a statement released two hours before the broadcast.

Mayor Rahman said: “It is completely untrue that the grants process in Tower Hamlets has been abused to fund Bangladeshi organisations.

“Since I took office, out of a total £27.6 million paid out in grants to community organisations, £2.2 million has gone to Bangladeshi charities or organisations led by a Bangladeshi CEO, Chair or Board.

“That is 8 per cent of our total grants budget to a community that makes up over 30 per cent of the borough’s population.”

He added: “Tonight’s Panorama programme is based on unprofessional, shoddy and biased reporting.

“Repeating damaging myths about black and minority communities benefiting at the expense of others only threatens to undermine community cohesion in our borough.”

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