Mohammad Lutfur Rahman (born 12 September 1965), known as Lutfur Rahman, is a Bangladesh-born British former solicitor and politician, who was the first directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, a Borough within London, and the first directly elected mayor to be removed having been found guilty of electoral fraud.
Elected to this office in 2010 as an Independent, Rahman was previously the leader of Tower Hamlets London Borough Council from 2008 to 2010 for the Labour Party. He was re-elected at the 2014 mayoral election, but the result of this election was declared null and void on 23 April 2015 when the Election Court officially reported Rahman to be "personally guilty" of "corrupt or illegal practices, or both" (electoral fraud) under the Representation of the People Act 1983. He was thus removed from his office with immediate effect and was also personally debarred from standing for elected office until 2021.
Early life and career
Rahman was born in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to Bengali Muslim parents from the village of Sikandarpur in Balaganj, Sylhet, and moved to the United Kingdom at an early age. He grew up in Tower Hamlets and attended the Marner Primary School in Bow, the Lawdale Junior School in Bethnal Green and Bow School.
Rahman graduated with an LLB (law degree). He was admitted as a member of the Law Society of England and Wales as a solicitor in 1997 after passing the Society's examinations.
Rahman was elected as a Labour Councillor for the Spitalfields and Banglatown ward in 2002 and re-elected in 2006 and 2010. He was part of the leadership of Tower Hamlets Council, serving as Lead Member for Education for two years and, from 2006–07, Lead Member for Culture. In February 2007, Rahman announced his application to be selected as the Labour Party's prospective parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow, but when party members voted he came second to Rushanara Ali, who was later elected as the constituency's MP.
In April 2008 Rahman was elected as Leader of the majority Labour Group on Tower Hamlets Council, and therefore became Leader of the council, replacing Denise Jones.
After the local elections in May 2010, in which Labour increased the number of their councillors, Lutfur Rahman was replaced as Leader by Helal Uddin Abbas, in part due to a Channel Four investigation which linked Rahman to the Islamic Forum of Europe.
Rahman's leadership had come under criticism in June 2009, when he reportedly stated that he had no confidence in Tower Hamlets' Chief Executive, Martin Smith, and told him to "go home and consider your future". The news came on the eve of voting in the European parliamentary elections, which Smith nevertheless attended as the council's returning officer. For his departure, reported to be caused by a personality clash, Smith's terms of employment, negotiated when the council was under the Labour Party leadership of Cllr Denise Jones, entitled him to a payout reported to be between £300,000 and £500,000. The exact reasons and terms of his departure were not made public; Rahman characterised it as by mutual agreement.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets
In September 2010, Rahman was selected by the Tower Hamlets Labour Party as its candidate to be the first directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets. However, his candidacy was controversial and his placement on the shortlist of preferred Labour Party candidates was withdrawn on several occasions before it was finally confirmed following legal action on behalf of Rahman.
He was finally elected as Labour's Mayoral candidate by Tower Hamlets Borough Labour Party members receiving 433 votes, compared to John Biggs with 251 votes and Helal Abbas with 157 votes. He was declared as the winning candidate by Ken Clark, Director of London Regional Labour Party. However, after allegations that he was closely linked to an alleged Islamic fundamentalist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, and that he had personally signed up fake members in order to win the selection, he was removed as Labour's candidate by the Labour Party's National Executive Committee and replaced by the 'third man' Helal Uddin Abbas. Later, in 2011, a Labour Party investigation report stated that 16 members not registered in the constituency had participated in the selection, but which candidate they voted for was not known, and in any event these would not have changed the outcome of the selection process.
He was at first said to be considering urgent legal action to be reinstated by Labour, but declared on 23 September 2010 that he would stand as an Independent candidate. The Respect Party declared its support for Rahman and George Galloway praised him.
He was elected with over 51% of the vote receiving 23,283 votes. Labour's candidate came second with 11,254, Conservative 5,348, Liberal Democrat 2,800, Green 2,300. He became Britain's first Muslim executive mayor.
A Labour councillor described Rahman's campaign as "a hugely well-financed operation", but Rahman stated he had met all his own costs from his earnings as a solicitor, including the launch event at the Troxy and the printing of election leaflets.
Rahman invited councillors from mainstream parties to join his cabinet, but only five did so, all former Labour members. In February 2011 a Guardian blog report covering his early performance as Mayor concluded that he had proved "highly adept at political jujutsu - drawing strength from his enemies' attack", including unfair branding of the borough as "Islamist" in the tabloids, and was working with the local Labour MPs to resist the Government's cuts.
Tower Hamlets First
He was re-elected at the 2014 mayoral election, which had a turnout of nearly twice that of the 2010 election. He represented the new political party Tower Hamlets First, of which he was the leader. The election has since been declared void, with Rahman reported personally guilty and guilty by his agents of making false statements of fact about another candidate's personal conduct or character, of administering council grants in a way which constituted electoral bribery, and of spiritual intimidation of voters. He was also reported guilty by his agents of personation, postal vote fraud, fraudulent registration of voters, and illegal payment of canvassers.
Channel 4 Dispatches documentary
Andrew Gilligan in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary in March 2010, and in a series of Daily Telegraph blogs and articles, accused Rahman of achieving the council leadership with the help of the Islamic Forum of Europe. The IFE was accused by the local Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, of infiltrating the council and the Labour Party. It was further stated by Gilligan that during Rahman's leadership of the council, millions of pounds of public money were paid to organisations run by the IFE, and that the results included stocks of extremist literature being made available in public libraries. However, Rahman denied in October 2010 that he was in league with the IFE. IFE issued a statement denying Rahman was a member of the IFE and stating that Abbas, Labour's replacement candidate, had also had public and private meetings with the IFE. In 2011, Rahman complained to the Press Complaints Commission about his description by Gilligan and the Telegraph as "extremist-backed" and as having "close links" to the IFE. The Commission rejected the complaint, saying that the description was "not misleading."
Subsequently, in the 2015 election court hearing involving Rahman, where this issue was considered, the judge determined the court had "not heard a shred of credible evidence linking Mr Rahman with any extreme or fundamentalist Islamist movement.
Allegations of financial irregularities in electioneering
Conservative councillor Peter Golds asked the police and the Electoral Commission to investigate Rahman for alleged undeclared donations from Brick Lane restaurateur Shiraj Haque to fund Rahman's legal action against the Labour Party. Interviewed for The Guardian in October 2010, Rahman dismissed the complaint and insisted that, like the electoral campaign, he meets all his own expenses and legal costs. Subsequently, the Press Complaints Commission upheld a complaint by Rahman against Andrew Gilligan for repeating these allegations in The Daily Telegraph without stating that the police had decided that there was no case to answer, causing the reporting to be "inaccurate and misleading".
Vanity office spending
In 2011, the London Evening Standard newspaper reported that Rahman had been accused of spending £115,000 on a "vanity office" for himself. The project increased the office space available for the new directly elected mayor, the council cabinet, and opposition parties. Later that year it was reported that Rahman hired a car in addition to the cost of being chauffeur-driven by council staff, and he was criticised for not using public transport or his own car as other mayors do.
Attempted selling of Henry Moore sculpture
In November 2012, Rahman overruled the recommendation of his councillors that Henry Moore's Draped Seated Woman, donated by the artist on the understanding that it would be permanently available for public appreciation in a socially deprived area of London, should not be sold. Rahman, however, said the money raised would ease the £100m budget cut that Tower Hamlets would face over the next three years. Council officers had recommended the work should be sold, as there was no safe council property to locate it, making it uninsurable.
Ultimately, it was found that the sculpture was actually owned by the London Borough of Bromley because, although residing in Tower Hamlets, when the Greater London Council (GLC) and subsequent London Residuary Body had been dissolved, all remaining GLC assets - including the sculpture - had been given to Bromley, who indicated that they did not want it sold.
Testimonials for individuals with convictions
Rahman apologised for providing a court character reference for the convicted sex offender, Zamal Uddin, stating that he had been misled by the defendant's family. In 2014, Rahman provided a "glowing" court reference to Mahee Ferdous Jalil, a convicted insurance fraudster who was subsequently sentenced to three years in jail for money laundering.
In March 2014, just weeks before council elections in Tower Hamlets, the BBC aired a Panorama programme making serious allegations about his suitability for office.
The Panorama documentary, presented by John Ware, alleged that:
- Rahman diverted over £3.6 million of grants to charities run by Bangladeshis and Somalis in return for political support.
- The council had paid money to Channel S, a local Bangladeshi TV channel, and one of its reporters, in return for politically biased coverage.
- A council-funded local newspaper was also strongly politically biased.
The documentary also alleged that Rahman had failed to answer questions at ten council Overview and Scrutiny meetings. The programme featured Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who subsequently sent fraud investigators in for a full investigation. The Times reported "A beleaguered mayor raised the spectre of civil war in his borough as government inspectors swooped on his offices hunting for evidence of fraud, favours and unlawful spending."
On 16 April 2014, the Metropolitan Police said there was "no credible evidence of criminality" to substantiate allegations made against Rahman, so they are not carrying out an investigation at this stage.
Andrew Gilligan, writing in The Daily Telegraph, later reported that the police were in the early stage of investigating an alleged fraud involving a grant to the Brady Youth Forum, and claiming that the local police had a "cosy relationship with Lutfur’s council". The police issued a statement that the council had referred the Brady Youth Forum to the police for investigation, and this investigation pre-dated the Panorama documentary.
Removal from office
Rahman's re-election as Mayor of Tower Hamlets in 2014 was challenged by four residents of the borough in an election petition under the Representation of the People Act 1983. They alleged that people had voted who were not entitled to, and promises of housing were given to certain sections of the community in return for their vote. Rahman sought unsuccessfully to strike out the case, but did persuade the High Court to order the petitioners to produce further particulars of what was alleged. These further details were supplied to the court by 18 August.
After a trial lasting 30 days, on 23 April 2015, Rahman was reported personally guilty and guilty by his agents of corrupt and illegal practices. The election of May 2014 was declared void, and with Rahman disqualified from holding electoral office for five years. The ruling meant that Rahman was ineligible to run for re-election, and he was ordered to pay immediate costs of £250,000. Labour won the subsequent by-election, defeating the independent candidate backed by Rahman. Rahman declared himself bankrupt, avoiding payment of the costs he incurred.
The Department for Communities and Local Government investigation, instigated by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers, found a "culture of cronyism" but no fraud at the council. Pickles determined the council was not meeting its "Best Value duties", and sent in commissioners to run the council's grant-making system and approve any disposals of council property until March 2017.
On 20 December 2017 the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found proved the three charges brought against Rahman, namely (1) failing to uphold the rule of law and administration of justice, (2) failing to act with integrity and (3) failing to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in him and in the provision of legal services. He was struck off the Roll of Solicitors, and ordered to pay £86,400 costs.
Rahman remains active in Tower Hamlets politics, while barred from holding elected office. He was behind the formation of the Aspire party in February 2018, which included most of the former Tower Hamlets First councillors. None of them were re-elected in the 3 May 2018 elections, but one was subsequently elected in a 2019 by-election.
In November 2020, reports began to emerge that Rahman was poised to make a return to local politics by campaigning to retain the mayoral system in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
In 2022 he again stood as a candidate in the mayoral election in Tower Hamlets.