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Lutfur_ferdhaus-460480Many of you would have already seen this piece I wrote for the Express on Thursday, but it needs recording here. You’ll remember last month this blog post about Mayor Lutfur Rahman providing another court character reference for a convicted criminal. As I said then, he has a habit of using his office for such good deeds.

The first to secure Lutfur’s praise in court was a minicab driver who had molested a woman in the back of his car.

Then last month it was Lutfur’s friend and admirer, Mohammed Mahee Ferdhaus, aka Mahee Jalil, aka the most influential man in British Bangladeshi TV.

Mahee is the founder Channel S, a rogue satellite TV company based in Walthamstow. And until he was sentenced to his second stretch in jail last month (he previously did a couple of years for insurance fraud; this time it was for money laundering £500k from a motor insurance fraud), he was the channel’s main anchorman.

Politicians fell at his feet and he in turn gave them favourable coverage…which meant that when Ofcom wasn’t actually asleep on the job, the channel was in breach of broadcasting rules.

In fact, Channel S has been a repeat offender with Ofcom. In 2012, the regulator said this of biased coverage towards Lutfur:

We are concerned that the breach in this case comes after three previous contraventions of the Code rules covering due impartiality and elections recorded against Channel S: in Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 1773; Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 1884; and Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 2035. We therefore put the Licensee on notice that further breaches of the Code of a similar or related nature will be considered for statutory sanction.

Yet when Ofcom came to sanction the broadcaster for its next breach the following year, it said it was powerless to take a stronger line. As the Evening Standard reported in March 2013, Channel S had recreated itself under a new management structure and with new directors registered at Companies House. How convenient. Here’s what Channel S told the Standard back then:

Channel S Television Ltd in its present form has only been trading since the end of June 2012. Everything that you mention was prior to June 2012 and I cannot comment on it as it was under different management at that time.

The council, too, seems to have hidden behind this line because it has continued to pay the channels tens of thousands of pounds in public money via advertising deals and via grants for “award ceremonies”.

Lutfur also employed the channel’s main reporter, Mohammed Jubair, as a £50k a year part-time mayoral adviser on “community media”.

Now, wouldn’t it be a scandal if the council was fully aware that Channel S, throughout all this time, was being still being controlled by a convicted fraudster and that the new management structure was something of a con?

Which brings me back to my article for the Express on Thursday. After we discovered last month that Lutfur had provided a glowing character reference for Mahee, we wrote to the judge to see a copy of the Mayor’s letter.

The court wrote back to decline our request on the grounds the letter had been provided in confidence as part of Mahee’s mitigation. So we pursued the case and in a hearing before Judge Anthony Pitts at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday (Judge Pitts had presided over Mahee’s case), we argued that what an elected public official was saying in mitigation for a known criminal was a matter of strong public interest.

We argued that I had a long and acknowledged record investigating Tower Hamlets council and we insisted that Lutfur’s letter did not fall within the category of a confidential note to the court, such as a mitigating victim statement.

So impressed was Judge Pitts with our arguments, he not only made his court officials go to extra special efforts to find the original reference (at one stage he feared it was no longer in the court files), but he also revealed that Lutfur’s deputy mayor, Cllr Ohid Ahmed, had provided a reference as well. He asked us if we’d like that one, too.

Intriguingly, he added that some other “well known….extremely well known people” had also given letters of support, but because we had made no application on that score, those names remain anonymous. I wonder who they were.

Judge Pitts agreed that the matter was “important” for the rights of the press to investigate and also for criminal procedure rules in sentencing. Essentially, we have set a precedent for journalists. So let’s have a look at these obsequious references.

Do they sound like they thought Mahee was just some mere presenter? What about Ohid’s comment that Mahee “sent his camera crew” to a news event?

Now remember this: at the time Lutfur and Ohid wrote these letters on official council notepaper, they knew Mahee Ferdhaus was a twice convicted criminal, a massive fraudster. He was a man who through his no doubt inflated motor insurance premiums, fleeced Bengali residents in Tower Hamlets.

Lutfur and Ohid also knew that Mahee’s not-so-squeaky-clean personal life led to his kidnapping, torture and beating by business associates and gangsters.

In short, to pretty much any reasonable individual, he’s a rotten egg.

So don’t these character references say something about the characters of the men who gave them? Ohid Ahmed is the the cabinet member for “community safety” but here he is praising a Class A criminal.

And Lutfur Rahman is among other things in charge of a multimillion pound discretionary grants programme and is responsible for ensuring there is no fraud.

Yet here he is fulsome in his praise for a fraudster. Maybe he’s not that bothered about “white collar crime”. What shining examples they are.

Anyway, here’s the Express article in full. (And I’m going to write a separate post later about some new breaches of the Ofcom code by other Bengali TV stations in favour of Lutfur.)

EXPRESS Newspapers today scored an important victory for the rights of the press to view court documents by persuading a judge to release a glowing character reference from a London mayor for a convicted fraudster.

Judge Anthony Pitts at Southwark Crown Court agreed to release the reference from Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman in support of millionaire Mohammed Mahee Ferdhaus, an influential TV mogul and presenter who was sentenced last month to three years in jail for laundering £500,000 of proceeds from an insurance fraud.

The judge was so impressed with the arguments put forward by Express barrister Joseph Lewis and its journalist Ted Jeory that he revealed Mr Rahman’s deputy, Councillor Ohid Ahmed, had also provided a reference that praised Ferdhaus’s attempts on TV to reduce crime.

“You may as well have that too,” the judge volunteered. The judge said the case had been an important matter for criminal sentencing procedures.

Both letters, which were used by Ferdhaus to try and secure a lower sentence, were written on Tower Hamlets council headed notepaper. While the deputy mayor added a postscript to his reference that he was writing in a “personal capacity”, no such note was on Mr Rahman’s letter.

Judge Pitts in earlier correspondence with the Express had declined an application to disclose the reference, saying it had been handed to him in the sentencing hearing “in confidence as part of the mitigation”.

However, after listening to arguments at a hearing in open court today, he said he had “changed his mind”.

He said: “I think that the press are entitled to know these two particular documents. “They could easily have been read out and they could have been called as witnesses. “For that reason, I am going to disclose both of them.”

He said he had found arguments “extremely interesting” and had ordered his court officials to look “extensively” to see if the references remained in the building. Officials had only found them 10 minutes before today’s hearing, he said.

In his arguments, Mr Lewis said Mr Jeory had a long and acclaimed record of investigating Tower Hamlets and the links between the mayor and Bangladeshi television stations.

Mr Lewis told the judge Channel S had previously been “repeatedly reprimanded” by Ofcom for biased coverage in favour of Mr Rahman. He said Ferdhaus’s influence “held great sway” within the Bangladeshi community of east London.

He said Mr Jeory was investigating the nature of the links between the mayor, who was elected to office in 2010, and Channel S. He added a BBC Panorama programme due to air “in the not too distant future” was also probing the relationships.

Mr Lewis said while he accepted the principle that certain references supplied to the court should remain confidential, for example victim statements in domestic violence cases, a letter from an elected public official on council paper was “a different matter”.

“This was a political ally effectively providing assistance to his friend or ally,” Mr Lewis told the judge.

At the sentencing hearing last month, the court had been told Mr Rahman had provided a reference, but the details of the letter had not been read out in full. Mr Lewis said the public had a right to know what had been said.

He said court guidelines recognised the “special position of the press’s role as a public watchdog” and that Mr Jeory’s application as an accredited journalist should be accepted.

Judge Pitts also revealed a number of “very well known” other personalities had supplied references for Ferdhaus but their names remain anonymous.

Ferdhaus’s case was reported by Express.co.uk last month. He had admitted his part in a £1.9million “crash for cash” insurance scam between 2006 and 2008. Gangs had rammed expensive cars such as BMWs into each other at drinking parties and Ferdhaus, 40, had a “background” role in the crime.

Until the day of his trail he had tried to pin the blame on his innocent brother Abdul. He had been jailed for 18 months in 2008 for conspiracy to defraud in respect of an almost identical earlier insurance scam between 2002 and 2003.

The businessman was on bail awaiting trial at the time he became embroiled in the later fraud. Ferdhaus had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after being kidnapped at gunpoint outside his TV station offices in Walthamstow, east London and issued with a £250,000 ransom demand.

When he refused to pay his assailants they tortured him, hanging him upside down and pouring boiling water on his head, before threatening to rape his daughter.

In his reference for Mr Ferdhaus, Mr Rahman wrote: “Mr Ferdhaus has played an instrumental role in promoting British Bangladeshis across the globe through Channel S.

“His contribution to the British Bangladeshi community especially in the fields of media and culture is widely recognised and commendable. Under Mr Ferdhaus’s leadership Channel S was one of the first satellite BME channels to initiate free viewing, connecting the Bangladeshi diaspora across Britain and the world. He has played a critical role in philanthropy, supporting charity and humanitarian organisations following natural disasters.

“As a prominent media personality, I have always known him to be constructive, critical but impartial as an anchor on community and current affairs.”

In his reference, Deputy Mayor Councillor Ahmed said Ferdhaus influenced his thinking on policies. He said Ferdhaus’s ‘Reality with Mahee’ Tv programme was “particularly useful”.

He wrote: “His programme helped the community enormously as his show always talk about real issues and problems (sic). I often watch his programme and find it very useful particularly his suggestions and recommendations to solve these problems. 

“As founder of Channel S (Number one Bangladeshi TV channel in UK) he has always helped us promoting the good initiatives particularly the community safety issues, recent example was that when Tower Hamlets facilitated the biggest police operation in the country, he sent his camera crew in the middle of the night with reporters which was broadcast in the channel extensively (sic).

“As TV presenter and Founder of TV channel he has his own community intelligence which he often share with us in order to resolve problems in our community particularly drugs, prostitution and antisocial behaviour related problems.”

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Pleasing Takki

I was at the annual Private Eye/Guardian Paul Foot Awards for investigative journalism last night and naturally the conversation with some of the most celebrated names in the profession turned to Tower Hamlets.

They’re all aware of what a basket case it is and how badly served its residents have been over the years by far too many councillors and officers.

What some weren’t aware of was the culture at officer level to try and close down journalistic scrutiny.

In the same way that Labour did for so many years, Lutfur’s administration seems to have successfully muzzled the influential Bengali media (and if Alibor Choudhury is reading this, I mean the British Bangladeshi media). The grant money and other council cash he’s chucked their way has probably helped. So too has the hiring of Channel S reporter Mohammed Jubair to work as his part-time adviser on “community media” (the job title is interesting: Jubair doesn’t have any contact at all with the East London Advertiser).

But there’s another issue. The frequency with which Takki Sulaiaman, the council’s £100k a year head of communications, rings the Advertiser to yell at impudent journalists is legendary, staff there tell me. He’s become something of a figure of fun there.

This is nothing new in Tower Hamlets. A few months after I joined the Advertiser and started investigating the council in 2005, one of Takki’s predecessors, Lorraine Langham (now the chief operating officer at Ofsted) called my editor at home and whispered to him that I was working every Saturday at the Sunday Express. She wondered whether I was in breach of my contract. My editor, the fabulous Malcolm Starbrook, put her straight: I’d already got permission to do those shifts. He was furious she had tried to get me sacked.

In 2012, the council’s then chief lawyer Isabella Freeman (now at the Homes and Communities Agency) sent me a series of erratic and poorly spelled emails and letters in which she threatened to sue me because I had likened her to an ostrich. She also seemed to determined to shut down this blog.

But what the hacks at last night’s do were most concerned about was a letter sent by Takki to my editor at the Sunday Express, Martin Townsend, in November 2012 in the run up to the Leveson Inquiry. They suggested I publish it here, which is what I’ll do.

Regular readers will remember this story I ran in October 2012 about a headhunter’s report that had been leaked to me on Murziline Parchment’s application to become council chief executive. The report was damning and suggested she was nowhere near able at that stage to do the job. The reason I published it in full (and after careful consideration) was because she was later recruited as the extremely important ‘head of the mayor’s office’ working directly for Lutfur Rahman. Her experience working for Ken Livingstone at City Hall probably helped her.

It was a classic case of public interest journalism, but Takki was incandescent. They had no legal case, so they very sneakily went to my editor to try and get me sacked.

The letter laid out a load of trumped up charges on the Editor’s Code (none of them remotely stood up), sinisterly raised the work of Leveson, and claimed I was blurring the lines between my job at the Sunday Express and this unpaid blog.

As our lawyer and my editor said to Takki in reply, there is no boundary. The blog is part of my journalistic toolkit (which frequently provided stories for the Sunday Express).

Takki had even gone to the length of checking the watermark on the scan of the leaked document I’d posted on this blog: he’d seen it had been created using ‘terryscanner’, which is a network name for a scanner allocated to my former and now retired Sunday Express picture editor, Terry Evans.

The letter was received with disbelief and hilarity. There was a discussion about whether we should even reply, but we did do, telling Takki in the politest possible terms to back off, get real and stop trying to muzzle the investigative journalism that has helped several articles and news items/documentaries in the national and broadcast media.

We didn’t hear from him again. But he’s a busy man at moment and with the election coming up, I hope he keeps it together.

Here’s the letter.

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Mayor Lutfur Rahman has form when it comes to supplying judges with court references for convicted criminals.

In 2011, as reported here, he wrote a lovely letter on behalf of minicab driver Zamal Uddin who was awaiting sentence for molesting a female passenger in Hoxton. Unusually, in that instance, the mayor wrote to me to explain himself.

zamal-uddin1

He said he’d been duped by Uddin’s family, that he thought he was being convicted of driving without a licence. Well, I guess we’re all human and we all make mistakes, even a fully qualified lawyer whose job is to pay attention to such detail.

It’s happened again, although this time I’m pretty sure Lutfur knew what he was doing.

Whenever I’m asked to give lectures about Tower Hamlets, I always cite this story: of how Mahee Jalil/Mohammed Ferdhaus, the boss and founder of Channel S television was kidnapped outside his Walthamstow office, bundled into the boot of a car, driven across London and hanged from the ceiling by his ankles while being tortured with scolding water poured over his testicles. He was then released by a sympathetic kidnapper and dumped by the side of the North Circular.

Of course, Mahee Jalil isn’t any ordinary businessman. He’s a crook. In 2008, he was convicted of a car insurance fraud and served time in jail.

It was after he reemerged from prison that he was given a Kray style treatment by an angry husband. This experience apparently made him see the light.

But he remains a powerful figure. He founded Channel S and although he still has (or had until recently) his own show, his name no longer appears on any legal documents connected to the station. This is convenient. Channel S was put under new management shortly before Ofcom’s latest ruling against it (more here).

Lutfur’s people, and Labour, are desperate to appear on Channel S. It’s the one media outlet that matters. This is why Lutfur hired at the public’s expense its reporter Mohammed Jubair to work as his media adviser (while still working for the station!); it’s why Tower Hamlets council gives it £10,000 a year for an annual awards show that is anything but One Tower Hamlets.

In short, the cowboy TV channel founded by crooked Mahee has been extremely friendly to Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

So the least Lutfur could do by way of thanks (and undoubtedly from some genuinely held conviction Mahee had changed his ways) was to try and help get his latest sentence minimised, this time for money-laundering some £500,000 from another car insurance scam. This money laundering took place while Mahee was on bail awaiting his previous sentence. He must have been so contrite.

I’ve not yet seen Lutfur’s full reference letter and no one from the council (which says it wants to tackle crime) wanted to comment yesterday.

However, Peter Golds has written to the council’s head of paid service Steve Halsey demanding a full investigation into the town hall’s links with Channel S. I can’t help thinking the council is bringing itself into disrepute.

Here’s the piece I wrote for the Express yesterday.

The photo is taken from Mahee’s last interview with Lutfur Rahman, which was uploaded on to YouTube in November last year, when the mayor was fully aware of Mahee’s latest predicament. (I’m going to moderate comments on this thread to ensure there is no reference to any other ongoing legal proceedings).

Lutfur_ferdhaus-460480

ONE of Britain’s most controversial mayors provided a glowing court reference yesterday to a convicted insurance fraudster who was then sentenced to three years in jail for money laundering.

Lutfur Rahman, the directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets Council in east London, praised Mohammed Ferdhaus’s “instrumental role” in promoting Britain’s Bangladeshi community just minutes before he was sent to prison for the second time in six years.

Mr Rahman’s letter of praise made reference to Ferdhaus’s work with Channel S, an influential satellite TV station for British Bangladeshis and which has been warned by Ofcom for broadcasting biased coverage of the mayor’s policies.

Ferdhaus is the channel’s founder and was until recently a regular presenter.

He interviewed Mr Rahman, an independent who was expelled from Labour in 2010, on the channel as recently as last November.

Despite a previous jail sentence for insurance fraud, Ferdhaus has been named as one of the most powerful Bangladeshis in Britain.

However, a judge at Southwark Crown Court yesterday said another custodial sentence was the only possible outcome for his latest crime, laundering the money from a £1.9million crash for cash insurance scam.

Ferdhaus, 40, who is also known as Mahee Jalil, grinned as his sentence was read out and waved at supporters in the public gallery, saying “thank you” and “see you  soon”.

He helped flush funds generated by a team of fraudsters led by his brother, Mohammed Samsul Haque, 26.

Haque, together with five other men, had already been sentenced to a total of more than 12 years in prison.

More than 120 bogus insurance claims for luxury motors including Mercedes, Jaguars and BMWs were engineered by Haque through his company, Motor Alliance.

Cars were trashed at crash for cash drinking parties at Haque’s garage in Tottenham, north London, the court heard.

The gang rammed the vehicles into each other blocking out the noise with blaring music, before finishing the job with baseball bats.

Between November 2005 and October 2008, a series of London-based accident management firms were used as a front to hide their activities.

They also persuaded other drivers to provide their licence details to back up the insurance claims in return for small amounts of cash.

The firm raked in around £1.17million in profits from the scam, which was unearthed after police raided Motor Alliance and found 64 files relating to insurance claims in the boot of a silver Mercedes.

Ferdhaus had a “background” role in the firm and was involved in the scam between July 19, 2006 and October 31, 2008.

The media mogul tried to pin the blame on his innocent middle brother, Abdul, and maintained his innocence on the day he was due to stand trial in July last year.

He was jailed for 18 months in 2008 for conspiracy to defraud in respect of an almost identical earlier insurance scam between 2002 and 2003.

The businessman was on bail awaiting trial at the time he became embroiled in the later fraud.

Ferdhaus had suffered post traumatic stress disorder after being kidnapped at gunpoint outside his TV station offices in Walthamstow, east London and issued with a £250,000 ransom demand.

When he refused to pay his assailants they tortured him, hanging him upside down and pouring boiling water on his head, before threatening to rape his daughter.

He continues to endure psychological difficulties as a result of the ordeal in May 2011, shortly after he returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, the court heard.

But sentencing, Judge Anthony Pitts said: “The proceeds of the fraud Motor Alliance received was something a little over £1m.

“Payments from the proceeds of the fraud were put into your account or accounts controlled by you.

“The proceeds of the fraud received by you was £500,000.

“It wasn’t proceeds which you suspected might be proceeds of fraud but of course which you knew were the proceeds of fraud.

“You are a highly intelligent man, there is no doubt about that and I have read a lot of good things about you.

“Of course you have suffered post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and depression.

“But money laundering is a serious offence.

“You were close to the source of the fraud and you dishonestly handled £500,000.

“This offending by you is so serious that even given the lapse in time, largely for which you are responsible, an immediate custodial sentence of some length must be passed.”

Shaven headed and wearing a black jacket, grey sweater and jeans Ferdhaus bit his nails and held his head in his hands as he sat in the glass-enclosed dock during the hearing.

But he appeared cheerful as the sentence was passed, thanking the judge and giving a thumbs up to supporters in the packed public gallery.

He grinned and waved, telling them “thank you” and “see you soon” as he was led down to the cells.

Ferdhaus was also banned from being a director for 10 years.

Mark Milliken-Smith QC, defending Ferdhaus, said of his kidnapping: “The fact that he suffered post traumatic stress disorder is hardly surprising given the physical and mental ordeal he was subjected to.

“What happened to him in May 2011 was a very, very significant and life changing experience.

“This is a changed man.”

Ferdhaus received a glowing references, including the one from Mr Rahman, who described him as playing an “instrumental role” in promoting the Bangladeshi community through Channel S.

He has a “real desire to help others” and is a keen philanthropist in particular supporting those affected by natural disasters, the court heard.

“He has a selflessness which one doesn’t naturally associate with an individual concerned with personal greed,” Mr Milliken-Smith added.

Ferdhaus, from Brentwood, Essex, admitted possessing criminal property.

Samsul Haque, of Maida Vale, west London, was given five years in October 2011 after he admitted conspiracy to defraud between November 13, 2005 and October 16, 2008.

His lieutenant Rosul Yusuf, 33, was jailed for four years, while Shalim Miah, 29, received two years behind bars and Halimur Rashid, 28, was jailed for 15 months.

Nazruislam Muhammad Rahman, 32, and Noveed Akhtar, 40, both of whom were named in bogus claims made by Haque’s gang were given 12 month sentences suspended for 12 months.

Paul Ellis, 37, who pleaded guilty to providing six driving licences to Haque was given a six-month sentence suspended for 12 months.

Ellis and Rahman were ordered to carry out 100 and 140 hours of unpaid work respectively.

Today, Councillor Peter Golds, the leader of the Tory opposition in Tower Hamlets called for a council investigation into the town hall’s links with Channel S.

The council and the mayor declined to comment.

There is no suggestion that Lutfur Rahman had any involvement in the insuranceor money laundering scam.

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