MP in court over poll fraud

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The Independent Online
MOHAMMED SARWAR, the Labour MP for Glasgow Govan, appeared before the High Court in Edinburgh yesterday to face accusations of electoral fraud, attempting to pervert the course of justice and a false declaration of election expenses.

The criminal charges are the most serious levelled against a sitting MP for more than two decades. The trial is expected to last at least eight weeks and could prove an awkward distraction for the Labour Party as it tries to focus attention on its campaign for the Scottish parliamentary elections.

The provisional list of witnesses for the prosecution includes Nick Brown, the former chief whip and now Minister of Agriculture, senior officials of the Scottish Labour Party, several journalists and a large number of people from the Pollokshields area of Glasgow, the heart of Mr Sarwar's constituency.

Mr Sarwar, 46, and his co- accused on one charge, Mumtaz Hussain, appeared in court for about 20 minutes before Lady Cosgrove, Scotland's only woman High Court judge, adjourned the trial until today.

Mr Sarwar became Britain's first Muslim MP when he was elected for Govan in May 1997 after a hard-fought contest with the Scottish National Party.

Born in Pakistan, he came to Britain in 1976 and, from selling clothes in markets, built up a multi-million pound cash-and-carry business before entering politics.

Mr Sarwar has always protested his innocence of the allegations, which all relate to the 1997 general election period in Govan. He is accused of having formed a fraudulent scheme to get the names of four people and their qualifying addresses on to the electoral register and also of knowingly making an incomplete declaration of his election expenses.

A member of the Labour Party since 1984, Mr Sarwar became a Glasgow councillor and also served on Labour's Scottish executive.