Britain’s first Muslim Mayor Sacked

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman is sacked for ‘corrupt practices’
Police are facing criticism for failing to investigate allegations of widespread election fraud as the judge who sacked Britain’s first Muslim mayor warned of ‘postal voting factories’

Mr Rahman was accused of “corrupt and illegal practices” during his controversial re-election last May

By Andrew Gilligan, London Editor

10:31PM BST 23 Apr 2015

Police are facing criticism for failing to investigate allegations of widespread election fraud as the judge who sacked Britain’s first Muslim mayor warned of “postal voting factories” and thousands of ballots being sold across Britain.

Lutfur Rahman was removed as mayor of Tower Hamlets in east London and banned from standing again after an electoral court found him guilty of a string of “corrupt and illegal practices” including ballot rigging, buying votes and lying about his opponents.

Rahman was said to have “cynically perverted” the religious feeling of his Muslim community, before silencing his critics with “accusations of racism and Islamophobia”.

The Metropolitan Police has also come under fire for failing to do anything to address concerns about Rahman’s behaviour since he became leader of the council in 2008 and then the elected mayor two years later.

Instead it was left to four ordinary voters who picked up the case after it was dropped by the police to convince the courts of Rahman’s corruption.

On Thursday night senior Met commanders were locked in an urgent meeting to decide whether the findings of the Electoral Court warranted a full criminal investigation.

• Lutfur Rahman: damaging new evidence as auditors close in
• 30 things you need to know about the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets

And with less than two weeks to go before Britain goes to the polls in the general election, the spectre of voting fraud was also raised when the Election Commissioner warned of “postal voting factories” where thousands of fake votes were being cast.

Rahman’s removal from office represents a victory for The Telegraph which has tirelessly investigated allegations of corruption and has long called for further scrutiny of Rahman’s office.

In a damning ruling handed down by election judge Richard Mawrey QC, the court heard that such was the level of corruption that the 2014 mayoral election in Tower Hamlets was void and would have to be run again. The former mayor, who was not in court for the judgment, was ordered to pay £250,000 costs, with possible liability for far more.

Rahman’s demise came only after four ordinary Tower Hamlets voters risked personal ruin to bring the case.

Andy Erlam, the leader of the petitioners, said that police and the Electoral Commission had been “useless” and had “done nothing” to bring Rahman to justice.

“Electoral fraud cases were brought to the attention of the police before the petition started but they didn’t take it seriously,” he said.

“They were far too close to the mayor. It is quite wrong that individuals should have to risk bankruptcy. If we’d have lost, the costs would have been about £1 million, we would have lost everything.”

Lutfur Rahman, who was elected mayor of Tower Hamlets by a 3,000-vote majority

Mr Erlam said that police took bogus complaints by Rahman’s supporters against him seriously and at one point threatened him with being interviewed under caution.

Meanwhile, he said, they did nothing to tackle the core allegations or the “serious intimidation” conducted against anti-Rahman witnesses in the case.

Some such witnesses withdrew or changed their evidence as a result, he said.

Rahman was narrowly re-elected as an independent in May last year, even though he had been expelled from the Labour Party for his links with an Islamic extremist group and his council was under Government investigation for misuse of funds.

In his landmark verdict, Mr Mawrey ruled that Rahman ran a “ruthless and dishonest” campaign and was guilty of “bribery, treating and undue influence,” “making false statements against another candidate” and “undue spiritual influence” – using religion to influence votes.

Rahman’s supporters registered or cast hundreds of fake postal votes, the judge ruled, and a handwriting expert gave evidence to the court that hundreds of ballot papers may have been completed by the same person.

They also lied to voters that his main opponent, Labour’s John Biggs, was a racist and said that voting for Rahman was an “Islamic duty”.

Mr Biggs said the verdict was a “victory for honest politics” and added that he would stand again for the post of mayor.

Alibor Choudhury, Rahman’s election agent, was also disbarred from office.

In a statement, Rahman’s party said it was “shocked” by the verdict and would consider an appeal.
This is taken from a blog by Andrew Gilligan
Lutfur Rahman: 30 things you need to know about the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets by
Andrew Gilligan
I’m a senior reporter for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph. This is my personal blog. I’m also cycling commissioner for London, but nothing below represents the view of the GLA or the mayor. For that, go to the official City Hall cycling blog.

By Andrew Gilligan Politics Last updated: May 21st, 2014

Tomorrow thousands of real voters – plus, if past Tower Hamlets elections are any guide, quite a few fake ones – will deliver their verdicts on the borough’s extremist-linked executive mayor, Lutfur Rahman. Rahman’s council is currently under investigation by both the police and an official inquiry ordered by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles.

In case anyone’s still wondering why, here (in no particular order) are my Top Thirty facts about this great democrat, socialist and human being:

1) In 2008 Rahman (then a Labour councillor) won the leadership of Tower Hamlets council with the close help of an Islamic extremist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which which works to create a sharia state and an “Islamic social, economic and political order” in Britain. In secret filming, IFE activists described how they exercised “consolidated… influence and power” over the council.

2) Rahman channelled millions of pounds in council grants to IFE front organisations and appointed a senior IFE figure as assistant chief executive of the council, though he was wholly unqualified for this senior post. Both the assistant chief executive and Rahman were subsequently removed from their jobs.

3) An extremist preacher was invited to speak in the council chamber and extremist literature, including audio tapes by the al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was stocked in Tower Hamlets libraries.

4) In 2010, after a campaign including large numbers of fake signatures led by the IFE, Tower Hamlets was changed from having a conventional council leader to a far more personally powerful, directly-elected mayor. In secret filming, senior IFE activists described how they would “get one of our brothers” into the new post.

5) Rahman personally signed up entire families as sham members of the Labour Party to win selection as the Labour mayoral candidate. He was selected, but was then removed by Labour’s National Executive Committee, and subsequently expelled from the party.

6) Rahman won election anyway as an independent, on a tiny turnout, after his (Muslim) Labour opponent was smeared as a wife-beater and enemy of Islam in thousands of newsletters produced with Rahman’s full knowledge. The new mayor was said by his campaign manager to have a “strategic relationship” with the IFE, with “most” of his campaigners being “either Respect or IFE activists.”

7) Even though Tower Hamlets is only 34 per cent Muslim, Rahman appointed a 100 per cent Bangladeshi and Muslim cabinet. He has never appointed any non-Muslim to any cabinet post and has no non-Muslim councillors.

8) Rahman has given control over the council’s finances to Alibor Choudhury, a former employee of an IFE front organisation with a long track record of encounters with the police. Rahman has himself taken personal control of all grants over £1000.

9) Under Rahman and Choudhury, council grants have been diverted away from secular bodies serving the whole community to IFE fronts and to other groups serving largely the Muslim community. Several of these groups, the council’s scrutiny committee found, are new and without any track record. Several appear to be based in people’s private homes. Several involve individuals with close personal connections to Rahman. (For a full account of Rahman’s Muslim grants favouritism, see here.)

10) Rahman has transferred valuable council properties to close personal associates at far less than their true market value, including a 10,000 square foot office building a stone’s throw from Canary Wharf which was sold for £875,000 to the man in charge of his election campaign website.

11) Key Rahman allies have been witnessed, and have not denied, engaging in a practice known as “vote-harvesting,” registering people for postal votes and then collecting their blank ballot papers.

12) Some of the supposed voters do not appear to exist. “Ghost” voters registered to empty properties or huge numbers of voters registered to small flats have been regular features of Tower Hamlets elections.

13) Rahman has presided over an atmosphere of menace and intimidation at council meetings. Phalanxes of Rahman supporters drafted in to the public galleries shout homophobic abuse at several key opponents of the mayor, who are gay. Rahman’s cabinet members, such as Alibor Choudhury, abuse their opponents as fascists.

14) Rahman has used council officers to hound and bully opposition councillors, spending tens of thousands of pounds of public money to make spurious, but time-consuming, legal attacks on them.

15) At council meetings, Rahman refuses to answer questions about any of these or most other issues, with officers saying that to do so would breach his human rights.

16) Rahman also refuses to engage with most other questioning. He has made almost no public appearances in this election campaign at any event where he would be required to answer questions.

17) Rahman largely ignores the non-Bengali media but pays tens of thousands of pounds of public money to UK-based Bengali-language TV stations – including £50,000 a year personally to one TV channel’s chief reporter. In return, they give him fawning coverage. The channels have been repeatedly censured by Ofcom, but it appears to make no difference.

18) Rahman has channelled further millions of taxpayers’ money into an extensive cult of personality. He has a weekly newspaper delivered to all households at public expense, containing often as many as a dozen pictures or mentions of himself.

19) Rahman has had hundreds of copies of his own picture displayed at public expense on billboards, lampposts, and even council dustcarts (to comply with election law, most have recently been removed.)

20) Rahman has used public funds to send thousands of personal letters, again with his picture on them, to residents claiming credit for things which are not his doing, such as the Government-funded council housing refurbishment programme.

21) Rahman has been hostile or indifferent to the borough’s non-Muslim heritage, threatening to close the local history library (reversed only after a storm of protest), selling off pubs and threatening them with closure, and attempting to dispose of a Henry Moore artwork whose form offended Islamic sensibilities. At the same time, he has created a new programme to channel hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money to (mainly Muslim) faith buildings.

22) Rahman’s cabinet member for education, Oliur Rahman, appeared on a public platform with a group campaigning for the “unacceptability of homosexuality.”

23) Rahman’s cabinet member for the environment, Shahed Ali, avoided £25,000 in tax by liquidating his restaurant business, then immediately reopening the restaurant under a new name. He boasts that he used the proceeds to buy a Porsche.

24) Rahman’s cabinet member for culture, Rania Khan, mocked gay people and published pictures of knives on her social networking site, saying: “I know it’s not ladylike, but I luv my weapons.”

25) Rahman’s key funder, Shiraj Haque, a restaurateur, has a criminal caution for selling counterfeit wine. He was sacked from his chairmanship of a council-sponsored festival after suspicions that it was being used as a front for illegal immigration, but was reappointed by Rahman. Despite being a millionaire who owns at least seven properties, Haque has been given subsidised social housing by the council.

26) Rahman has repeatedly given character references for convicted criminals, including a sex attacker.

27) Rahman charges taxpayers up to £60,000 a year for a Mercedes car and chauffeur, which he has used, among other purposes, to collect his dry cleaning. No other elected mayor, including Boris Johnson, has a limousine. He claims he has now given it up, but this appears to be only for the election period.

28) Rahman has also spent large sums of public money on taxis for himself, including one purported fare of £71 to travel a distance of 400 metres and another £28 fare from a local McDonald’s to his office.

29) Rahman is accused by the Government of practising “divisive community politics” and the “mismanagement of council staff and resources.”

30) Neither of the neighbouring boroughs, Hackney and Newham, will work with Rahman. The Labour mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, describes Rahman as “very bad news” and as creating a form of apartheid in his area.

 

Andrew Gilligan

I’m a senior reporter for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph. This is my personal blog. I’m also cycling commissioner for London, but nothing below represents the view of the GLA or the mayor. For that, go to the official City Hall cycling blog.

Lutfur Rahman: damaging new evidence as auditors close in

The extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, appeared to be closely personally involved in the decision to sell a lucrative council asset to one of his key associates for little more than half its true value, an official report seen by the Telegraph reveals.

The Old Poplar Town Hall, a 10,000 square foot building a stone’s throw from Canary Wharf and a new Crossrail station, was valued by council officers at £1.5 million and may now be worth up to £3.5 million after receiving planning permission for a 25-bedroom hotel. However it was handed over to Dreamstar, an unregistered company controlled by the owner of Mr Rahman’s election campaign website, for just £875,000. The deal is a key part of a government investigation into Tower Hamlets ordered by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles.

An independent audit, separately ordered by councillors after The Telegraph revealed the sale, appears to lay bare Tower Hamlets’ repeated breach of its own rules to favour Mr Rahman’s associate. “My heart sinks,” admitted the council’s solicitor, Isabella Freeman, but “this has come from the Mayor.” Other officers, including the head of asset management, Andy Algar, also opposed the Dreamstar bid, but were told the decision to allow it to proceed had “come from the very top.” (PDF of report is here, from page 13 onwards.)

In official answers about the deal, Tower Hamlets appears to have lied to councillors that Dreamstar was the “highest bidder” for the property. (See page 30 of this PDF.) In fact, the audit report reveals, its bid of £850,000 was only the fifth highest.

Dreamstar missed the deadline at the “best and final offer” stage altogether but was allowed to submit a further “late” bid after all the others, raising its offer to £875,000, though it did “not comply with the council’s procedures.”

Even this sum was still only the third highest bid and was recommended for refusal by BNP Paribas, the property consultants advising the council. “Dreamstar: tell them they have been unsuccessful on Poplar Town Hall,” the consultancy wrote. The council’s official policy for such tenders is that “the highest offer must be accepted unless the prior agreement of the [council] Cabinet and the Secretary of State where necessary has been obtained.”

Instead, however, it was the higher offers, of £1.2 million and £876,000, which were rejected. The £1.2 million bid, from the Limehouse Project, was supposedly turned down because the payments would be spread over too long a period.

Instead of accepting the £876,000 bid, from a businessman called Ashraf Shah Talkuder, the council waited two months, then decided to stage a “contract race” between him and Dreamstar to see who could get their finances in place first. Dreamstar was successful.

The solicitor, Ms Freeman, wrote: “My heart sinks. How can we possibly have a race for a property of this type? It’s bound to end in dispute and litigation… However, [Mr Algar] is only doing what he is told, this has come from the Mayor.”

Mr Algar told Ms Freeman that he had “made it clear that £876 [thousand] beats £875 [thousand] and [the council’s] director of development and renewal agrees, but it has come from the very top.”

Further concern was triggered at the highest levels of the council when it emerged that Dreamstar did not even exist as a company at the time it bid for the property, in June 2011. It did not register at Companies House until 14 September that year, only two weeks before it was awarded the property.

Dreamstar has now received planning permission to turn the listed building, on Poplar High Street, into a 25-room hotel, expected to raise its value to around £3.5 million. The lucrative permission was given in secret by Mr Rahman’s officers, though applications of this scale would normally be decided in public by elected councillors.

Companies House records show that Dreamstar’s key shareholder is Mujibul Islam, who is chief executive of Medialink, the registered owner of Mr Rahman’s 2010 election campaign website, lutfurformayor.com. Mr Islam admitted that he had “had an affiliation” with Mr Rahman and had “helped” him during the 2010 election, but insisted that they were no longer close.

In 2010, after investigations by The Telegraph, Mr Rahman, the then Labour council leader in Tower Hamlets, was replaced, deselected and later expelled by the Labour Party because of his close links to an extremist Muslim group, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), based at the radical East London Mosque. However, Mr Rahman stood and won the new and far more powerful mayoralty as an independent.

Another main shareholder of Dreamstar, Alfaz Kabiri, is director of a “regeneration” company based in the East London Mosque offices of the IFE.

Mr Rahman was narrowly re-elected mayor in May this year. Following the election, dozens of allegations of voter fraud, intimidation and vote-buying were made and are now under investigation by the Electoral Commission and police. A number of electors have launched a formal High Court petition to challenge the result. A separate police enquiry is underway into allegations of fraud in council grants and a third enquiry is being staged by the Department for Communities and Local Government into council spending, favouritism and the disposal of council assets.

Mr Rahman last month claimed he “welcomed” the Government probe and was confident that it would find no “serious irregularity.” However, earlier this month he launched an attempt to block the investigation in the courts.

The council claimed last night that the report on Old Poplar Town Hall revealed “no evidence of illegality or maladministration causing injustice” and that “no elected individuals have been involved in the processes investigated.”

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