Chris Bryant accuses Russian officials of ‘smear campaign’

Sir Malcolm Rifkind has resigned as honorary president of the Russian pressure group

Chris Bryant, the former Labour minister and outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin’s record on civil rights, last night made accusations relating to a “smear” campaign after an old photo of him in his underwear was posted online.

The picture of Mr Bryant was posted on the website of a pressure group called Conservative Friends of Russia (CFoR), alongside an article attacking his chairmanship of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Russia.

The photograph was later removed from the website, but it triggered the resignation of the former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, from his position as honorary president of CFoR. Mr Rifkind was quoted last night as saying he had long-standing concerns about the group but that the attack on Mr Bryant was “the last straw.”

Mr Rifkind said that Mr Bryant’s suggestion of links between the group and the Russian Embassy were a “slightly childish counter-accusation”.

“They ran a pretty nasty smear campaign which they chose to couch in a rather puerile way that was verging on the homophobic,” Mr Bryant said. “This is no way to do politics. If a photograph like that had been used in a parliamentary election, the reaction would have been ballistic.”

According to Mr Rifkind, “the charge of homophobia is a smokescreen to divert attention from the real issue that the group was due to be removed from the register because it missed the date of its AGM and that the short notice period makes it difficult for any potential opponents to stand against him.”  

Mr Bryant, who is gay, is convinced that there is a campaign to get him removed from the chairmanship of the All Party Group due to his campaigning in Parliament against civil rights abuses in Russia, including the cases of the businessman Sergei Magnitsky, the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the jailed members of the feminist punk band, Pussy Riot. “That’s why the Russian government cares about who is the chairman of the All Party group,” he said.

The All-Party group is holding its annual meeting on Monday, when Mr Bryant will stand for re-election. Two years ago, Mr Bryant ousted the previous chairman, the Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, who was subsequently revealed to have been having an affair with a Russian woman, Ekaterina “Katia” Zatuliveter, 39 years his junior. She was threatened with deportation because MI5 suspected her of being a spy, but an appeal tribunal found no evidence to support the accusation.

The article attacking Mr Bryant’s chairmanship was written by Richard Royal, the chairman of CFoR, a professional lobbyist and Conservative Party activist best known as a spokesman for the Ladbrokes chain of betting shops. It was backed up by an email widely circulated by Mr Royal, accusing Mr Bryant of “incompetence.”

Mr Royal’s email also referred to Mr Bryant’s work as a paid columnist for The Independent, which is owned by the Russian father and son, Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev, and his work with the PR company Bell Pottinger, whose clients include the exiled Russian oligarch, Boris Berezovsky.

CFoR has attracted controversy since it was launched on 21 August, at the London home of the Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, where 250 guests were served vodka and shashlik, because of suspicions that it was too close to the Putin government.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
University Edible Garden, Leeds – a sustainable garden in the centre of the university, passers-by can help themselves to the home-grown produce
news
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event
music
News
newsThis 8-year-old boy carried his disabled brother through a triathlon
Sport
The Manchester United team walk out ahead of the pre-season friendly between Manchester United and Inter Milan at FedExField
transfers
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Electrical Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Wiltshire based client require an Ele...

JavaScript Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + 15% Bonus: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a l...

Lead Application Developer

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am current...

Year 3 Welsh Teacher vacancy in Penarth

£110 - £120 per day + Travel Scheme and Free training: Randstad Education Card...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz