Craig's undiplomatic tackle on Arsenal's Uzbek oligarch

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The Independent Online

Last week brought that sound familiar in English football: the scratching of a foreign billionaire's ballpoint across his cheque book, as he buys a stake in one of our clubs.

The Uzbek plutocrat and Jabba the Hutt lookalike Alisher Usmanov, who acquired his $5.6 billion fortune through iron ore and steel, bought a 14.6 per cent share in the family club Arsenal from its most perma-tanned of shareholders, David "Tango man" Dein.

Usmanov moved fast to engage the services of Schillings solicitors, who duly breathed fire up the bottoms of Fleet Street editors, writing to them that although Usmanov was imprisoned during the Soviet era, their client was a political prisoner and "did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged [and] was fully pardoned after President Gorbachev took office."

They added: "All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records."

There's always someone to pee on a happy parade, however, and this time it is the UK's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who has launched a vicious criticism of Big Al Usmanov on his website. Fair to say that someone over at Schillings HQ will be holding a giant magnifying glass up to their computer screen, while a colleague punches fees into a calculator.

Says Murray: "I hope Usmanov's expensive lawyers sue me for libel. I am a poor man and I would like to question him in a British court."

He adds: "I don't know what's happening, I have not received a writ but here's to hoping."

Beeb's sofa proves too soft for Bhutto camp

British diplomats and foreign hacks salivate over the return to Pakistan in the coming weeks of the devil-they-know former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, to prop up (or so the spin goes) the country's ailing military president, Pervez Musharraf.

Ms Bhutto impressed, apparently, with her Sabbath TV appearance on the BBC show News 24 Sunday with Peter Sissons, the substitute over the summer for perky Andy Marr.

The only person present who seemed not to be riveted by Bhutto's timely self-publicising was, surprisingly, a member of her large entourage. One former Pakistani High Commissioner to London who was seated slightly off-camera began snoring so loudly during the Bhutto-Sissons interview that the studio floor manager had to shake the man and insist he desist.

"It's not his fault," said an aide. "He had to get up very early."

Floyd joins the pack

As numerous chateaux across the Bordeaux region will testify, it takes a lot to keep Keith Floyd down.

Last week, I reported that just hours after collapsing in Thailand with chest pains, the gamely chef had hopped on a plane back to London, with one boggled eyeball trained on the hostess trolley.

Not one to rest on his laurels, "Floydy" has since taken on a new job. He will spend the next six weeks entertaining our armed forces during the Rugby World Cup, as a television pundit for British Forces Broadcasting.

"They said he can hang around and watch as many matches as he likes," says a spokesman. "He's really looking forward to it, as he is a massive rugby fan, and of course his military credentials are excellent: Keith is a former 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Tank Regiment."

Stewed plums

I'm sad to report that the telegenic telly don Tristram Hunt didn't quite make Sunday's shortlist of six for the safe Labour seat of Liverpool West Derby.

Long-suffering readers of this page may remember that supporters urged plummy-toned Hunt last month to take "Scouse elocution lessons" to endear himself to proles on the mean streets. Alas, he did not heed the advice, and was subsequently beaten to the cut by the under-fire sitting MP, "Serbian" Bob Wareing, and also by Stephen Twigg, the conquistador de Portillo who was arrested in London in December 2005 for being drunk and incapable in a public place.

Bring it on!

Perry passes on the fried food

As the gentlemen of the English rugby team head across the channel, twirling their jockstraps in the air en route to destroying the rest of the world, fans celebrate the dieting regime of scrum-half Shaun Perry (the bloke who picks up the ball while the rest punch each other on the floor).

Two years ago, Perry was a welder and part-time player. His sudden success did little to muffle his appetite for take-aways and he owned prodigious buttocks. He has lost two stone since the turn of the year, however, " and one stone of that is off my arse," he tells me at O2's send-off dinner. "When we won the World Cup [in 2003] I was tucking into a fried breakfast at my local rugby club. Recently I tried to get sponsorship from Kentucky Fried Chicken, but there seemed to be a problem. It's probably for the best."

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