Wales politics

AM Mohammad Asghar claims libel over 'blizzard of lies'

Mohammad Asghar
Image caption Mr Asghar was awarded damages in another case earlier this year

Four men spread a "blizzard of lies" about an AM as part of an effort to take control of two mosques in Newport, the High Court in Cardiff was told.

Mohammad Asghar, the Conservative AM for South Wales East, and Abdul Mujahid, have accused Manzoor Ahmad, Farzand Ali, Shokat Bhutt and Mohammad Ali Hayat of libel.

Mr Asghar and Mr Mujahid allege a newsletter claimed they were involved in money laundering and other crimes.

All four deny libel.

The High Court sitting in Cardiff was told the newsletter was given out at a public meeting in Newport and was also included in a dossier about Mr Asghar given to Welsh Conservatives' leader Andrew RT Davies.

William Bennett, representing Mr Asghar and Mr Mujahid, told the court the four men wanted to take over the running of the Jamia and Al Noor mosques from Mr Mujahid.

Mr Ahmad said that was not true, but they had wanted the mosques to become more "accountable and transparent", and hold elections.

Removing 'respect'

The court heard how, in 2011, Mr Asghar was brought in to act as a mediator in the dispute, because he was a respected figure in the community.

Mr Bennett said the four men were unhappy with the way Mr Asghar handled the mediation, and began to "spread lies" about him and Mr Mujahid.

The lawyer put it to Mr Ahmad that he sought "to undermine the process of mediation by removing the respect with which Mr Asghar was held in the community" by "spreading lies".

"No", replied Mr Ahmad, "no lies were spread".

Mr Bennett went on to tell Mr Ahmad that he and the others set out to damage the claimants "at all costs".

He said: "A blizzard of accusations about fraud were now swirling around the community and it was [you and the others] who got the snowball rolling".

"No", replied Mr Ahmad.

'Significant cost'

Claire Kissin, representing Mr Ahmad and Mr Ali, said the claimants' motivation for bringing the case was retribution.

In 2011, an injunction was granted that stopped Mr Asghar and Mr Miujahid from attending prayers at the mosques.

It was lifted two days later but Ms Kissin said Mr Asghar had described it as "the worst thing that had happened to him".

She told the court: "This claim is an attempt to seek retribution for the injunction proceeding".

Earlier, the judge ruled the trial could go ahead today despite the absence from court of Mr Hayat, who was unwell and unable to attend.

But the judge, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker, decided the medical evidence submitted to the court "does not justify" Mr Hayat's absence.

Ms Kissin told the court the hearing needed to go ahead because "significant cost" had been incurred by the adjournment of the case in July.

Whichever party loses the case is likely to be liable for costs worth tens of thousands of pounds.

Earlier this year, Mr Asghar and Mr Mujahid were awarded £270,000 in damages from an Urdu newspaper and two of its staff.

The judge has already told them it will not be possible for them to receive further damages if they win this case because the allegations are the same.

Claims against a fifth man - Mr Javed Javed - will be heard separately.

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