A MAGISTRATE has found the Bangladesh national who cast his vote in last year’s National General Election (NGE) in Malaita guilty of the offences laid against him.
Mia Mohammad Abdul Latif had been tried for charges of fraudulent voting and obtaining registration by false pretence.
Principal Magistrate Fatima Taeburi at the end of the trial found that Latif is a Bangladesh citizen when he made declarations in 2018 to the Electoral Commission to vote in Loina, North Malaita.
She also found Latif guilty of casting his vote at Loina when he was not entitled to do so.
Ms Taeburi said the declaration made by Latif on 6 September 2018 was in fact false.
“Clearly the evidence shows that the accused is not a Solomon Islands citizen,” Ms Taeburi said in her judgment.
“The accused holds a Bangladesh passport which was issued on 4 December 2013 and expired on 3 December 2018.
“The evidence also showed that he renewed his Bangladesh passport on 18 September 2018 and it will expire on 15 September 2023,” Ms Taeburi added.
She said this means that when Latif made the declaration on 6 September 2018 to the Electoral Commission claiming to be a Solomon Islands citizen, he, in fact, holds a valid Bangladesh passport and was, therefore, a Bangladesh citizen.
Ms Taeburi was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt on the Crown’s evidence that during the registration, Latif made a representation in writing which was false.
She was also satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Latif knew that the declaration he made claiming to be a citizen of Solomon Islands is in fact false.
“His passport was renewed 12 days after he made the false declaration about his citizenship.
“At that time he made the false declaration, his Bangladesh passport was still valid and he was in the process of renewing his Bangladesh citizenship.
“In those circumstances, I find it difficult to believe that when he made the false declaration, he did not know that he is not a Solomon Islands citizen.
“I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt when he made the declaration to the Electoral Commission he knew it was false.”
Ms Taeburi also found Latif was not eligible to vote and that he knew when he cast his ballot paper on polling day that he is not entitled to vote in the elections.
On the defence of honest belief raised by the defence, Ms Taeburi said she found it difficult to accept that Latif’s belief is an honest one.
The defence has argued that Latif honestly believed he was entitled to vote in the NGE because he is married to a Solomon Island woman from North Malaita district and the fact that he was not stopped to register and vote in the NGE in 2015.
Ms Taeburi, however, said the difficulty she faced within accepting the defence raised by the accused is firstly due to the fact that he holds a Bangladesh passport at the material time.
“Secondly, there is prosecution evidence that he has obtained a work permit from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Labour and Immigration.
“There is also prosecution evidence that on 5 of December 2018, he was granted a long term employment visa in the Solomon Islands by the Ministry of Commerce.”
Ms Taeburi said the fact Latif requires a work permit and an employment visa to work in this country can only mean he is not a citizen of this country.
“If he honestly believed that he was entitled to register and to vote given that he is a citizen of Solomon Islands by marriage, why did he apply to have his passport renewed?
“Why did he apply for a work permit and an employment visa?
“His argument does not reason with common sense,” Ms Taeburi said.
Ms Taeburi said she found Latif to be an educated person and understands his legal obligations.
She said Latif testified in court that before he came to the Solomon Islands he had lived and worked several other countries including Dubai, Libya and Qatar for several years.
“These countries have their own laws on immigration and foreign immigrants obtaining residence and employment permits.
“Obviously, the accused must have satisfied legal requirements on immigration and employment to have lived and worked in these countries for several years.
“This shows that he is a person who is exposed to different immigration laws of different countries and a person who has an adequate understanding of his legal obligations as an immigrant in a foreign country.”
Ms Taeburi said Latif also operates four businesses in the Solomon Islands.
“I cannot accept that a person with that background and that level of education and understanding would be so ignorant as to his legal obligations in the Solomon Islands.”
For these reasons Ms Taeburi said she was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the prosecution has proved that Latif did not act under an honest and reasonable belief.
Sentencing submissions and mitigation on Latif’s case will be made in court tomorrow.