The controversial British Bangladeshi mayor of the East London borough of Tower Hamlets has been accused of “corruption” and “illegal practices” at a hearing at the High Court.
Lutfur Rahman, the UK’s first elected Muslim mayor, was also described as a “liar” who used intimidation and engaged in fraudulent practices during his campaign for a second term in office early last year.
The hearing at the Election Court at the High Court is hearing from democracy campaigners from Tower Hamlets who put together a dossier on the tactics used by the Sylhet-born Rahman in an area that is home to a large Bangladeshi community.
The court heard how voters were told they would “not be good Muslims” unless they voted for Mr Rahman, a message that was re-iterated by a group of Muslim figures in a column published in a local Bengali newspaper.
Mr Rahman won the 22 May election with just under 52 percent of the vote. He had stood as an independent candidate after he was expelled from the Labour party over links with an Islamic extremist group.
The High Court petition was brought by Azmal Hussain, a Labour Party supporter and restaurant owner; Labour Party candidate Debbie Simone; UKIP supporter Angela Moffat and Andy Erlam, an anti-corruption campaigner.
All four are residents of Tower hamlets.
Mr Francis Hoar, representing the petitioners, said his clients “know how, almost one year ago, (Rahman) subverted democracy to be re-elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets”.
“Since the beginning of his political career, he has been prepared to take whatever steps, use whatever means, recruit whatever support, to obtain power – power for himself, power for his friends and most importantly, power over his community”, Mr Hoar said.
“He know what the law is and his attempts to pretend otherwise during the case should fall on deaf ears”, he added.
Among the most serious allegations against Mr Rahman are electoral fraud, making false allegations about the character of a political opponent, “undue influence by means of spiritual influence”, intimidation at polling booths and bribery including “to religious organizations, local media organizations and third parties”.
Mr Rahman is said to have had the support of close associates who organized meetings in the community and promoted the message that the opposition Labour Party was “un-Islamic” whilst a vote against Mr Rahman would be “haram”.
Mr Hoar related the story of a young Muslim man who was found crying outside a polling station after he was told that not voting for Mr Rahman would be a “betrayal” of his faith.
Mr Rahman enjoys widespread support in the local community but has long been a controversial figure.
The law-graduate has been previously accused of diverting some of the borough’s £1 billion budget to Bangladeshi community groups in exchange for political support.
In 2014, a report by the accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) found a “culture of cronyism, improper conduct and taxpayers’ money being unlawfully used” in the borough.
At the time, local British Bengali MP Rushanara Ali called on Mayor Rahman to “carefully consider” his position.
If the allegations of electoral fraud are proved, Mr Rahman’s election will be declared void and he will be suspended.
He denies any wrongdoing.
The hearing continues.