24 October 2012

Police raid on city candidate

THE election of Melbourne's next lord mayor and council was rocked yesterday by a Victoria Police raid on Azeezur Rahaman, a candidate and local education entrepreneur, as part of an investigation into vote-rigging.

Police seized computers, mobile phones and documents from the home and Queen Street office of Mr Rahaman, owner of the multimillion-dollar Southern Cross Education Institute. Mr Rahaman, 36, is running on the team headed by lord mayor candidate and 2009 Victorian of the Year Berhan Ahmed.

The police were acting on a request from the Local Government Investigation and Compliance Inspectorate, which made its move on Mr Rahaman after a five-week investigation tracking a batch of about 500 suspect voter applications. These were discovered by the City of Melbourne and revealed in The Age last month.

Mr Ahmed, when contacted by The Age yesterday afternoon in Saudi Arabia, said he had no knowledge of the so-called ''vote harvesting'' scheme. ''That's shocking, to be honest with you. That is shocking,'' he said. Mr Rahaman and his manager, Australian Labor Party member and former Hobsons Bay mayor Bill Tehan, did not return phone calls yesterday.

The outcome of Saturday's city election will not be affected by the suspect vote applications as the council has removed them from the certified roll. The fraudulent batch of votes included anomalies such as 25 people living in a one-bedroom apartment and another 30 living at an address with no physical building.

As the No. 1 candidate for one of the nine main leadership teams, Mr Rahaman may be elected to council this weekend. Most residents have already lodged their postal votes and voting closes on Friday afternoon. If elected, Mr Rahaman will not need to stand down unless he is proven guilty of offences under the Local Government Act.

Following the raids, the Melbourne Magistrates Court agreed to Victoria Police's request to turn items over to the inspectorate for examination and analysis.

''Anyone convicted of these offences would face penalties of up to five years' imprisonment and heavy fines,'' said Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf.

''Convictions for offences of this nature are disqualifying offences, which would result in anyone involved being banned from holding the office of councillor for seven years,'' he said. ''It's important to remember that this investigation is ongoing, and everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence.''

If the inspectorate collected any evidence, it would take weeks to prepare a brief and launch a prosecution.
The Southern Cross Education Institute is largely state-government funded, employs 110 people and teaches courses on childcare, business and aged-care to 1000 local and international students.

The latest developments come after a series of issues in the lead-up to the poll, including suggestions of bullying and ballot theft and calls from The Age for candidates to reveal their financial backers in a bid to promote transparency. The Age has also revealed Robert Doyle's team organised cash-for-access meetings with developers.

Mr Rahaman came to Melbourne in 2000 from India to study information technology at Swinburne University of Technology. In 2004, he started a small IT training company with money he had saved working nights at a petrol station. Three years later he opened the Southern Cross Education Institute, which now fills two floors of a Queen Street office tower. Initially, the business model was geared towards international students, but Mr Rahaman switched gear and now 60 per cent of his business is childcare, aged care, computer and pathology courses, mostly state government funded.

The business had a $7 million turnover last year.

In an interview with The Age earlier this week, Mr Rahaman said 80 per cent of his students were getting jobs.

Mr Rahaman told The Age the needs of poorer inner-city communities had been neglected by the council. He said he was standing for council ''to give something back'' and because no other candidate or councillor had his experience - of coming from another country, of working part time and studying.

''Really, I want to be there to bring that culture to the council,'' he said. ''I don't see a single person in the council [like that].''

theage.com.au  23 Oct 2012

This is only an example of what is really going on in politics around Australia.

It is obvious that Azeezur Rahaman was uncomfortable to the establishment.

Vote rigging is widespread across Australia, as outlined in an article:
Let's see if any other politicians will get nabbed.
Most likely not, as they are the protected ones.

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