The controversial mayor of Tower Hamlets has been found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices by a judge, following an Election Court trial estimated to have cost the taxpayer more than £1 million.
Lutfur Rahman – directly-elected mayor of Tower Hamlets in east London – was found “personally” guilty of wrongdoing and “guilty by his agents” by Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey.
Mr Mawrey said the 2014 Tower Hamlets mayoral election was void and that Mr Rahman could not stand at a new election.
Four voters took legal action against Mr Rahman at a hearing in the High Court in London which ran for several weeks earlier this year.
The group was headed by Andy Erlam, who had stood as a councillor on an anti-corruption ticket.
“It is a fantastic result for democracy,” he said after today’s ruling. “There will have to be a new election for mayor. Mr Rahman cannot stand.”
The four voters mounted a challenge under the provisions of the Representation Of The People Act.
In their submissions, the voters described Rahman – the UK’s first elected Muslim mayor – as a “liar” who used intimidation and engaged in fraudulent practices during his campaign for a second term in office early last year.
The Election Court heard 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.
Mr Francis Hoar, representing the petitioners, had earlier told the court: “Since the beginning of his political career, (Rahman) 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.
“He knows what the law is and his attempts to pretend otherwise during the case should fall on deaf ears”, he added.
Other accusations levelled against Mr Rahman included 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 enjoyed the support of the local British-Bangladeshi community. Groups of supporters are said to have 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”.
A 2014 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 Sylhet-born Rahman to “carefully consider” his position.
Mr Rahman had said there was ”little, if any” evidence of wrongdoing against him.
His lawyers described the group of four’s claims as invention, exaggeration and ”in some cases downright deliberately false allegations”.