Warning against prejudice in Sikh leader's trial
A jury in an election fraud trial involving a leader of New Zealand's Sikh community has been urged to put aside prejudice against a different culture and recognise mistakes had been made but no crime.
Labour Party member and Sikh leader Daljit Singh and six other community members are on trial in the High Court in Auckland. They have been charged with 38 offences relating to local body elections three years ago.
Singh's lawyer, Ron Mansfield, cautioned the jury, saying it might be easy to assume that an innocent mistake was more than that; "because they are not Church of England, because they wear different clothes and they operate in their community in a different way".
Singh, 42, is on trial with Gurinder Atwal, Davinder Singh, Mandeep Singh, Virender Singh, Paramjit Singh and Malkeet Singh.
They are accused of forging documents to change residential addresses showing that people from places such as Timaru and Tauranga appeared to live in the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board area.
Daljit Singh was a candidate in the first Auckland super-city election in 2010.
The trial is into its eighth week having heard from 200 witnesses.
Mansfield said this was a prosecution of mostly migrants and people who dressed differently and who had different religious beliefs.
In the election they acknowledged they had made mistakes, but with good intention, he said.
"There is a lack of any evidence to show that this was an intentional fraud," he told the 11-person jury.
It was absurd for the prosecution to suggest that Daljit Singh committed the crime to get a community board position that paid $35,700 annually, Mansfield said.
"If it wasn't for fame, if it wasn't for fortune, then what was it for?" he told the jury.
"There is no motive, there is no reason, there is no logic why this man would turn to crime to be elected to the local board."
Mansfield said the jury had to "give someone a fair go".
"Where is the evidence of intentional fraud?"
He urged the jury to put aside any generalised views they had on race, culture and religion: "focus on the evidence."
Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey told the jury yesterday that fraud did take place.
"In a sentence, he [Daljit Singh] and his associates ... carried out a fraud in the election system to try and assist Daljit Singh," he said.
At the time the Electoral Enrolment Centre (EEC) made it "rather easy" for people to go online and change their electoral address.
He said Daljit Singh and Atwal, who he called Singh's "right-hand man," used the names of Sikhs to enter the EEC's website.
Once there they would change the address, to the local board area where Daljit Singh was standing, and then download a declaration form that they signed and submitted.
"The vast majority of those whose addresses were changed were unaware it was happening," McCoubrey said.
The EEC noticed many voters were registered to the same address. They also found that they were coming from the same internet provider addresses, or same computers, and these were from Daljit Singh's home and from Atwal.
Lawyers for each of the other accused are to make closing addresses and it is likely the jury will go out on Thursday to reach a verdict.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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