Former councillor jailed for electoral fraud said he wanted to help people
Victoria Munro, Local democracy reporter
- Credit: Redbridge Council
A former councillor has been jailed and ordered to pay more than £28,000 back to Redbridge Council after committing electoral fraud.
Chaudhary Mohammed Iqbal, who was a Labour councillor for Loxford for more than two years, admitted in October that he gave a false address when applying to be councillor and later lied to the police.
He was jailed on Monday, January 4 for 68 weeks (17 months) and must pay back £18,368 he received in expenses and £10,000 towards the cost of the by-election to replace him.
Iqbal, who lived in Cecil Avenue, Barking, at the time, pretended to live at a rental property in Ilford in order to run as a Redbridge councillor in the 2018 local elections.
When police began to investigate, Iqbal continued to lie about his address and encouraged his former tenant, Kristina Stankeviciute, to give a false account to police on his behalf.
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Miss Stankeviciute has left the country and a European warrant for her arrest was issued.
Prosecution lawyer Rhiannon Sadler told the court that Iqbal insisted to police in his first interview under caution that he only visited Cecil Avenue.
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He said his two tenants at the time were family friends, who paid him £400 to £500 a month to cover bills and repay a loan, and that there was no tenancy agreement.
On November 2, 2019, police were able to speak to his former tenant Miss Stankeviciute, who said she and her partner paid £1,000 in rent and that Iqbal never stayed over.
In a formal interview on November 8, she changed her account, telling police that Iqbal slept in the converted sitting room.
Ms Sadler told the court: “Police had a look around the flat but their description was they felt it looked ‘somewhat staged’.
“The crown’s case, which the defendant accepts, is that he was trying to make it look as if he lived at the address to further his political ambition of becoming a councillor and then used his tenants to lie to police about his situation.”
Iqbal’s lawyer, Patrick Hill, told Southwark Crown Court that Iqbal accepted responsibility for what he had done but that his intentions were “always good”.
He said: “He wanted to be a councillor because he wanted to help and that is what he has done and continued to do.
“This was not somebody who wished to secure a role that he could thereafter abuse. His work has been a direct help to local constituents.
“It was an act of sheer folly on his part, having made those declarations, rather than putting his hands up and accepting what he had done, to become involved in fraud.
“Such was the shame and guilt felt by this defendant at what he had done that he moved 230 miles away (to Preston) and uprooted his family.
“He’s lost his good name and reputation, for him that’s something of significance and his move away from London is reflective of that.”
In October, Iqbal told the Ilford Recorder he had resigned due to ongoing health issues following a heart attack in January 2019.
The council’s chief executive Andy Donald wrote in a statement to the court that Iqbal’s crime had the “inevitable result of reducing confidence residents may have in the electoral process".
Her Honour Judge Sally Cahill QC told Iqbal: “The electorate of Redbridge has been deceived substantially and has suffered substantially.
“You decided you wanted to become a local councillor, despite the fact that you were not qualified to do so.
“You joined Labour in 2007 to achieve that object and, when you failed in your attempts with them, you became a Conservative. That did not succeed so you went back to the Labour party.
“You gave various addresses, including one non-residential, because you wanted to appear to live in the area for which you wanted to be a councillor.
“You went so far as to instruct your tenants that they should leave the water bill in your name and that they should not register to vote at that property.
“In September 2019, you were interviewed under caution. You answered questions and gave a detailed account supporting your answer. It was all lies.
“During (the police) investigation, you decided to carry on as a councillor. You went to meetings, you claimed expenses and met with constituents. You did not resign until October 1, 2020.
“You have expressed (remorse) in words but your conduct up until October 1 expresses quite the opposite.
“You quite deliberately involved yourself and your tenant in telling lies to cover your tracks and, had you been successful, you would no doubt have continued to act as a councillor.”
Judge Cahill ordered Iqbal to pay back the £18,368 he received in expenses from Redbridge Council during his time as councillor and pay £10,000 towards the cost of the by-election to replace him.
The council estimates the election will cost at least £28,000 but asked for £10,000 as it would have still had to hold one to replace Cllr Stuart Bellwood after his death on August 20.
Iqbal was also ordered to cover the cost of the investigation and prosecution, which totals £10,452.54. All costs must be paid in the next six months.
He is banned from running for any elected position for the next five years.