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Muslim lawmaker accused of election fraud refuses to resign

December 18, 1997

GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) _ A governing Labor Party lawmaker who is the first Muslim member of Britain’s House of Commons is refusing to resign after being charged with electoral fraud and obstruction of justice.

Mohammed Sarwar, a 46-year-old Glasgow millionaire businessman, appeared briefly in court on Wednesday. He was released while police make further inquiries into the charges. No date was set for the next hearing.

Pakistan-born Sarwar, who came to Britain with his immigrant parents as a 4-year-old, won a working class Glasgow district, Govan, in national elections May 1.

Shortly afterward, a national newspaper, The News of the World, reported he had given a rival candidate a $8,150 bribe to ease off campaigning.

Sarwar was suspended from the Labor Party when police started investigating.

On Tuesday, police issued a warrant for his arrest on charges relating to late registration of voters, attempting to pervert the course of justice, and violating election expenses rules.

Sarwar won Govan with a relatively narrow majority, with the independence-seeking Scottish National Party in second place.

He acknowledged afterward giving Badar Islam, a left-wing candidate for a small breakaway group, the $8,150, but said it was a loan. He denied charges of organizing late registrations of Asian voters.

The News of the World said the money was a bribe to stop Islam from splitting support among the minority of voters of Asian descent in the district.

The Scottish National Party and another Labor legislator from a neighboring Glasgow district, Ian Pollock, called Wednesday for Sarwar to stand down. Pollock had supported a rival candidate, Mike Watson, for the Govan Labor nomination.

``Since I have done nothing wrong, it would be entirely inappropriate for me to resign,″ Sarwar said, vowing to clear his name after appearing in court.

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labor Party, anxious to avoid the charges of sleaze that dogged the previous Conservative Party government, has also investigated the charges against Sarwar.

A party report in June concluded Sarwar was guilty of behavior ``grossly detrimental to the party.″

More than half the Conservative legislators were defeated in Blair’s landslide election victory, including 10 who had been under investigation by a committee on standards in public life.

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