Five charged in relation to election fraud

FIVE people have been indicted for conspiracy to defraud in relation to the Maybury and Sheerwater elections.

On Thursday, Surrey Police – who have been investigating cases of vote rigging in the ward – charged Shaukat Ali, 56, Parveen Akhtar, 48, Abid Hussain, 40, Shamraiz Ali, 28, and Sobia Ali Akhtar, 23.

GUILTY – former Councillor Bashir

GUILTY – former Councillor Bashir

All from New Haw, the suspects were released on bail and are due to appear in front of Guildford Magistrates on April 15.

Last year, the News & Mail reported that former Councillor Mohammed Bashir had been found guilty of electoral fraud.

He was consequently banned from office for five years and kicked out of the Liberal Democrat party. Labour candidate Mohammad Ali (below) had filed a civil case against Bashir at the High Court after losing the seat to him by just 16 votes in the May 2012 borough elections.

Mr Ali petitioned to have the count declared null and void, and for a re-election in the ward.

He won his High Court battle and the evidence was passed on to the police.

Mr Ali told the News & Mail: “The detectives put in a lot of work but out of nearly 30 cases, they have only charged five people. I think there should have been more.”

On a recent BBC Radio File on 4 current affairs programme, he said: “We found that about 300 names had been added to the electoral register so that postal votes could be applied for.”

However, establishing ‘ghost’ voters wasn’t enough and the petitioners had to link Bashir to the addresses in question.

After a long and complicated case, and a seven day trial in July last year, Electoral Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC declared Bashir guilty of fraud. He said: “The petitioners proved Mr Bashir had a wide network of relatives, friends and associates living in a tight community.

“They were all related to or worked for each other, and the frauds were masterminded from the campaign office in the ward.”

Mr Mawrey has ruled over similar corruption cases in Birmingham and Slough.

Although fraud is said to be easy to perpetrate, it is difficult to prove, especially if the onus is on a candidate to bring the case to court.

Returning Officer and Chief Executive of Woking Borough Council, Ray Morgan, admitted: “I don’t think any elections I have personally officiated over since 2006 have been totally fair and honest.
“It’s the legislative system I’m obliged to follow. It is based on trust. The system has worked well over the centuries, relatively.

“There has always been corruption, so this isn’t new, but now it is more organised.”

Mr Mawrey, who praised Mr Morgan for the way he runs the elections, also believes the postal option should be scrapped.

He said: “Postal voting on demand is wide open to fraud. I am afraid there is a very strong political desire to keep the present system, but no matter how many safeguards you create, fraud and serious fraud is inevitably going to continue – it is built into the system. There is a very strong political desire to keep the present system, but no matter how many safeguards you create, fraud is inevitably going to continue.”

Mr Morgan (below) added: “There is a culture among some of our Pakistani people of rural origin, of exercising power in whatever way is necessary − it’s their belief. It’s not a faith thing, it’s cultural.
“It is only in one part of the borough, and it’s a culture that is a disgrace, but sadly still exists.”

Those who do challenge election results face huge obstacles, but Mr Ali believes individuals should not have to fight such cases. He said: “The onus is on me as an individual.

“There’s no system to fight it.” Although he won the case and costs of £180,000 were awarded in his favour, Mr Ali says he hasn’t received a penny and now has to fork out more legal fees to try to recover what he’s owed. He added: “If I lose, I’ll be bankrupt.”

Bashir’s lawyer said his client still denies being involved in any wrongdoing and that if he was the beneficiary of corrupt practices of others, he shouldn’t be held responsible. They plan to seek leave for a judicial review of the judgement.

Conservative candidate Mohammed Rashid won the Maybury and Sheerwater by-election in September.

Mr Ali, a 35-year-old engineer and still a Labour party member, chose not to stand.

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