Sikh leader escapes jail
A leader of New Zealand's Sikh community has been sentenced to community detention and work for forging election documents in a bid to win a local body election three years ago.
Labour Party member, justice of the peace and Sikh leader Daljit Singh, 43, was found guilty in the High Court in Auckland of two charges of dealing with forged documents.
He had changed residential addresses to show that people from places such as Timaru and Tauranga appeared to live in the area of the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board in Auckland.
Singh, who was an unsuccessful candidate in the first Auckland "super-city" election in 2010, was found not guilty of 18 other counts of the same charge.
The charges carried a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years.
Six men were found guilty after the jury trial last year, including Gurinder Atwal, 40, who was found guilty on 13 charges and Malkeet Singh on six charges.
The other three men were found guilty on a single charge each.
Justice Mark Woolford, who said these were the first cases of electoral fraud convictions in New Zealand, told Daljit Singh that he could have faced 12 months' imprisonment.
After reviewing submissions he sentenced him to five months' community detention and to serve 200 hours' community work.
The judge said there was a cultural context to Singh's offending.
"Your offending cannot be divorced from your culture and community."
It was common within the community to help each other by filling in forms, and to sign forms for others.
But in New Zealand a high value was placed on individual autonomy and voting was on the individual not family or others.
Justice Woolford said the case had "caused great damage to the Sikh community" and deep divisions.
"You have much to repair in your community."
On Gurinder Singh, the judge said he was one of the two most culpable of the offenders.
He said he could have been liable to 14 months' imprisonment but sentenced him to six months' community detention and 200 hours' community work on each charge to be served concurrently.
Malkeet Singh was sentenced to three months' community detention and 200 hours' community work.
Paramjit Singh, 51, convicted on one charge, was sentenced to 300 hours' community work.
Mandeep Singh, 31, convicted on one charge, was sentenced to 200 hours' community work.
Virender Singh, 42, convicted on one charge, received 200 hours' community work.
In submissions prosecutor Robin McCoubrey said the offending was "more serious" than the defence had claimed.
"The essence of the offending is dealing dishonestly with documents contrary to the public interest," he told Justice Woolford.
The integrity of the documents was essential to the functioning of the system.
"It is not simply an offence of providing misleading information."
For Daljit Singh, lawyer Ron Mansfield sought a discharge without conviction, and if not possible a community-based sentence.
"This is not offending in relation to a national election," Mansfield said, adding his client would not have gained financially from the offending.
Payment involved was token and the offending was motivated by a desire to serve his community, something Singh had done his adult life.
Mansfield asked for the discharge, saying that a conviction would affect Singh's ability to work as a real estate agent, immigration adviser, marriage celebrant and as a justice of the peace.
For Atwal, Steve Bonnar said his client showed naivety in his offending.
"He was essentially motivated to act in the way he did for what essentially were good reasons," he said.
Atwal had wanted the Punjabi community to have a greater voice in the community and there had been no opportunity for personal gain.
"The shame he feels he has bought upon his community and the fact that he will carry the conviction and shame for the rest of his life is a significant consequence," Bonnar said.