The controversial British-Bangladeshi mayor of the East London borough of Tower Hamlets will face a High Court fraud trial following claims of electoral fraud.
Lutfur Rahman – Britain’s first elected Muslim mayor – is accused of using a “variety of forms of fraud” when he won the May election by a margin of 3000 votes in an area of London that is home to a large Bangladeshi immigrant community.
The petitioners claim that Mr Rahman, 48, promised voters council homes whilst his supporters urged Bengali residents in the area to “be good Muslims” by voting for “one of their own”.
High Court judges granted the petitioners a trial after Mr Rahman’s legal team failed to get their case thrown out.
Mr Justice Supperstone said that “further particulars of the allegations in the petition” should be supplied by 18 August.
However, the judge refused a plea by the petitioners to hear arguments outside the Tower Hamlets area.
The 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, a Tower Hamlets resident and anti-corruption campaigner.
The petitioners also claim that Mr Rahman’s supporters “intimidated” voters outside polling stations, stole postal ballots, wrongly smeared his main rival candidate as a racist and, perhaps most bizarrely, made polling station officials fold ballot papers to obscure the names of Mr Rahman’s rival candidates.
According to reports, property belonging to Mr Hussain was vandalized days after the petition was first submitted on June 10.
Mr Rahman’s legal team had applied to have the entire petition dismissed, claiming that it was “flawed and insufficiently detailed”.
Mr Rahman denies any wrong-doing.
In a statement issued after the ruling, he said: “There is simply no evidence to substantiate that the recent election results were due to fraud and intimidation.
“I am completely confident that at the end of this process such claims will be exposed for the smears that they are.”
Mr Rahman was a member of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party and was its candidate to be the first directly elected mayor of the borough in 2010.
But he was expelled from the party after allegations surfaced about his close links with an Islamic extremist group called the Islamic Forum of Europe.
The Sylhet-born Mr Rahman then became an independent candidate and won the 2010 mayoral contest.
He was re-elected in May even though his council was under two separate investigations at the time – one by the Government for alleged misuse of funds and one by the police for fraud.
Mr Erlam, a Labour Party supporter, added that Rahman supporters intercepted Bengali voters, especially women, outside polling stations, ‘accompanied’ them to polling booths and ‘directed them how to vote’.
If the petition is successful, the mayor faces a rerun of the poll.
He could be banned from holding office if the High Court finds evidence of electoral irregularities by him.