George Galloway has rejected a public inquiry’s conclusion that Vladimir Putin was "probably" involved in the murder of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko - claiming the process was “riddled with imperfection” and accusing the BBC’s Newsnight of conducting a “show trial”.
The former MP, who is standing to be London mayor for the Respect Party, defended the Russian President for “trying to restore a lot of the lost prestige” in the country and being “the most popular politician on the planet”.
The ex-Labour politician also likened Sir Robert Owen’s inquiry - which found Russians Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun to have deliberately poisoned the 43-year-old in London in 2006 by putting the radioactive substance polonium-210 into his drink at a hotel - to the inquest into the death of Iraq weapons inspector, Dr David Kelly, which has been blighted by cover-up theories.
Galloway’s remarks - condemning the British establishment while showing deep sympathy for Russia - was immediately criticised by UK MPs.
Galloway, who has a show on the state broadcaster Russia Today, made no attempt to mask his unhappiness with the Newsnight report that preceded a discussion with himself and Alex Goldfarb, a friend of Litvinenko.
In his first response to the suggestion that the assassination of Litvinenko was “probably” approved by Putin, Galloway said: “Carlsberg is probably the best lager in the world. But perhaps not.”
He went on: “The tragedy of this foul murder has been followed by another Whitehall farce. This is the Hutton Inquiry (which investigated David Kelly’s death) all over again. Secret evidence, closed sessions. You said at the top of the show the full story was now known, but it isn’t. Large sections of this process were closed to the public and the media.”
Alexander Litvinenko on his deathbed (above) and before he was poisoned (below)
Presenter Evan Davis asked directly if he accepted the conclusions of the Owen inquiry. “I don’t,” Galloway replied. “I certainly don’t. I no longer believe automatically - nor do many people in Britain - what the security services say.
“I know polonium-210. I was at (late Palestine Liberation Organization leader) Yasser Arafat’s bedside. In France. When he died. From polonium-210. So I know how foul murder this is. And they are obvious suspects. But this process was so riddled with imperfection that it cannot be relied upon.”
He went on that Newsnight had “gone much further” than the Owen inquiry. “You are basically arranging a show trial here of a President of a country of which we have to do business, apparently careless of what the implications of it will be.”
Galloway, a former Celebrity Big Brother contestant, said “spies and their associates often end up dead”, and the show hasn’t “sounded at all sceptical” about the inquiry’s findings. “You’ve bought this hook, line and sinker,” he opined.
Asked whether Putin’s reputation was in the dirt, he replied: “You’ve certainly done your best to put it there.”
He ended with a staunch defence of the need to retain good relations with Russia - and Putin’s leadership.
Galloway said: “We need Putin - who by the way is the most popular politician on the planet with public opinion, polls in the 80 per cent.”
Goldfarb interrupted: “Like Stalin.”
Unperturbed, Galloway continued: “The reality is we need Russia. Russia was very popular in the West when a drunkard who was handing over Russia’s wealth to the oligarchs was in power. It’s not so popular now that Russia has a strong President that’s trying to restore a lot of the lost prestige.
“But we need Russia. We need it to fight a much bigger threat, which is the threat of Islamist extremism in Syria and elsewhere ... we need Russia for all kinds of things and we must not allow the public interest to be sacrificed to the Cold War agenda.”