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Australia anti-immigrant leader jailed for fraud

Brisbane, Aug. 20 (Reuters): The controversial founder of Australia’s anti-immigrant One Nation party, Pauline Hanson, was jailed for three years today after being found guilty of electoral fraud, a court official said.

“Rubbish, I’m not guilty,” Hanson said angrily after the verdict was read out in a Brisbane court, the Australian Associated Press news agency reported. “It’s a joke,” added Hanson, a former fish and chip shop owner who stormed into Australian politics in 1996 railing against Asian immigration and handouts to aborigines.

The fiery redhead, known as much for her garish wardrobe as her strident politics, had pleaded not guilty to fraudulently registering One Nation in the state of Queensland. Hanson also denied dishonestly obtaining $329,000 in electoral funds used for the campaigns of 11 politicians elected to the Queensland state parliament.

It took a jury in the Queensland capital Brisbane nine hours to find Hanson, 49, and One Nation co-founder David Ettridge, 58, guilty.

A court official said the judge handed Hanson and her co-defendant three-year jail sentences. Hanson, who AAP said broke down in tears and hugged her two sons as the sentence was announced, could have faced a maximum 10-year prison term.

“She’s going to jail tonight for sure. The bed’s been turned down,” the court official said.

Hanson’s lawyer Chris Nyst said she would appeal.

Prosecutors had accused the pair of passing off a list of 500 supporters as genuine, paid-up members of One Nation to register the party and apply for electoral reimbursements.

Hanson is due to face separate charges over allegations she used political funds for personal expenditure. The conviction effectively ends Hanson’s political ambitions while the party she founded struggles to survive; its thunder muted by the conservative government’s tough stance on illegal immigration.

Hanson grabbed world headlines and set off alarm bells in a region wary of any revival of a “White Australia” policy after she warned in 1996 against Asian immigration in her maiden speech as an independent member of federal parliament.

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