Labour MP charged with electoral fraud

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A Labour MP will appear in court in Glasgow today charged with electoral fraud, it was confirmed last night. The action against Mohammed Sarwar, MP for Glasgow Govan, is bound to cause embarrassment to the Government. Fran Abrams, Political Correspondent, looks at the latest twist in a saga which has run for seven months.

A warrant for the arrest of Mr Sarwar, a millionaire businessman, was issued last night by the Crown Office in Edinburgh. He will appear voluntarily at the Sheriff's court today on charges relating to the alleged late registration of voters, attempting to pervert the course of justice and contravention of the Representation of the People Act in connection with election expenses.

Since the allegations were first made against him, just after his election in May, Mr Sarwar's case has been the subject of an internal Labour Party inquiry.

Mr Sarwar's constituency party in Glasgow Govan was suspended for three months, and his case was referred to Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The police inquiry has been going on since May, and Mr Sarwar was interviewed earlier this month in connection with the investigation.

A newspaper alleged that Mr Sarwar had paid pounds 5,000 to an election rival, Badar Islam, to "ease off" his campaign.

The Strathclyde Fraud Squad added the bribery claim to an ongoing investigation into late applications to the Govan electoral roll and allegations of malpractice by Mr Sarwar's supporters. Mr Sarwar has said the money he paid to Mr Islam was a loan, made to a fellow member of the Asian community who was in distress, and has described the claims made against him as "baseless, false and ludicrous".

Mr Sarwar, who made his money through a cash-and-carry business, became Britain's first Muslim MP when he was elected on 1 May.

The Labour Party would not relish the prospect of the by-election which it would have to fight if the MP is forced to give up his seat. And conviction would lead to him being barred from sitting as an MP.

Although Mr Islam polled only 319 votes as an independent Labour candidate, the Scottish National Party polled 11,300 to Mr Sarwar's 14,200, reducing Labour's 1992 majority of 5,600 to 2,900.

If a by-election were to be held, the SNP will have high hopes of winning, particularly as the Labour party in Glasgow Govan has been deeply troubled in recent times.

Mr Sarwar won a bitter selection battle against the former Labour MP Mike Watson, although they were said to have buried their differences during the election campaign.