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Wealthy businessman Cengizhan Cerit jailed for trying to rig by-election in Ashford

Jem Cerit, who has been convicted of trying to rig election votes.

Cengizhan Cerit was convicted of trying to rig election votes

by Alex Claridge

An Ashford businessman who tried to cheat his way to a seat on the borough council has today been jailed for a year.

Cengizhan Cerit forged signatures on electoral documents in order to be nominated as the Tory candidate in for a by-election in Beaver ward in November 2011.

Sentencing the property landlord at Canterbury Crown Court, Judge Adele Williams said: "This was a fraud which struck at the heart of democracy. You tried to corrupt the legitimate electoral process."

Cerit, of Primrose Drive, Kingsnorth, denied three charges of electoral fraud, but was convicted following a trial.

The 47-year-old, who goes by the name Jem, was undone by a spelling error involving a man called Arnold.

Canterbury Crown CourtAlex Chalk, prosecuting, told Canterbury Crown Court: "This is a case about misconduct in the democratic process.

"Cerit, a candidate standing for election, submitted electoral documents to the Electoral Services Department knowing that the signatures on those documents were false."

The landlord, who owns more than 50 houses and has more than 300 tenants, had stood for election in May 2011 and polled 335 votes – losing out to two other candidates who polled 481 and 479 votes.

However, four months later one of the councillors, Brendan Naughton, died - sparking a by-election.

When interviewed by the local Conservative Association on October 25, Cerit was selected as the party's candidate.

But when he filled in nomination forms, anomalies were found in the signatures. Two looked the same - with only a difference in the spelling of a name.

When examined further, all but one of the signatures on the form was false.

Mr Chalk said a week before the deadline for applications to vote by post, officials received a list of 200 names and addresses in Beaver Ward wanting to register to make a postal vote.

He said: "The information on these lists were found to be inaccurate because some of the individuals recorded as wanting postal votes already had them, some of them were recorded on both lists and other names were recorded as no longer being resident at the address."

CCTV later confirmed the person who had delivered the forms was Cengizhan Cerit.

An investigation was launched and police raided a first floor office above Perfect Pizza in Bank Street, Ashford, and Cerit was arrested.

He was a franchisee of the takeaway until April last year.

He was asked where the signatures came from and told officers: "I send the guys around to get those people to sign."

Mr Chalk added: "When pressed on who the 'guys' were, he mentioned Yanis or Cameron, adding later that 'girlfriends' might have done so too.

"He said he had spoken to people on the forms and had said he was standing as a councillor and he expected their support. He stated that he had spoken to the individuals first and confirmed that they were happy to vote.

"this was a fraud which struck at the heart of democracy. you tried to corrupt the legitimate electoral process..." – judge adele williams

"Statements were later taken from 50 individuals, whose names appeared on application documents for electoral registration by post – most were rastern European, Polish, Latvian and Romanian – and they were able to confirm that the signatures on the documents were fake."

The prosecutor said police had also questioned "the guys", who included Cerit's partner Oksana Nadeja, her sister Natalijia Ivanova and seven others - and "all were able to state they had not been asked to fill in, deliver or collect, application forms".

Judge Williams told Cerit: "These forgeries were crude, but such was your arrogance that you thought you could get away with it. You sought to blame others - employees and your girlfriend - but there was only one person responsible and that was you.

"You sought to interfere with legitimate electoral process of our democracy. This is a very serious matter indeed."

The court heard father-of-two Cerit earned more than £115,000 a year running his company CC Properties Ltd.

He said he had studied civil engineering before studying professional management, politics and law in the UK after arriving here in 1989.

Cerit claimed he bought a house, did it up and sold it and then invested in other properties – amassing dozens of homes.

DC Stuart Champion, from Kent Police, said "It was a long and complicated case and we are pleased with the result.

"We want to the send the message out that you just can't do this and it will not be tolerated."

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