ONE of Lancashire's most prominent community leaders is being prosecuted for alleged benefit fraud.

Salim Mulla, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, has been charged with the theft of £8,900 of incapacity benefit between April 1, 1998 and August 17, 2001.

He faces a second charge of claiming income support and incapacity benefits between August 17, 2001 and March 31, 2009, without notifying the authorities of the true extent of his income.

Yesterday, Coun Mulla, who is also a councillor on Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, vowed to clear his name.

The prosecution has been brought by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Coun Mulla, of Ripon Street, Blackburn, said: “I’ve always been honest in everything I do and I will continue to be honest - that’s me.

“I have a very clear conscience.

“A lot of people know my integrity. I’m not a benefits expert and it is complicated.”

Coun Mulla said he could not work because of sight and hearing problems.

The Labour councillor for the Queen's Park ward said when he was first elected on to the council in 1998, he sent off the paperwork - including council payslips - notifying the authorities that he would be receiving a councillor allowance.

He said the charges against him related to an alleged over-payment of income support and incapacity benefit because of annual increases in the councillor allowance.

Blackburn with Darwen Council said Coun Mulla now received £6,600 a year for being a councillor.

Coun Mulla said: “I have notified the benefits agencies about the details of the payment I receive as a councillor right from the start.

“Obviously I have a dispute with them. It’s happened and I will try and sort it out.

“If I had wanted to do something like that I wouldn’t have written to the benefits agency.

"I wouldn’t have given them my councillor details and I would have claimed every bit of expenses I could.

“I do not claim a single penny in expenses from the council. That shows you the kind of person I am.

“I only get the normal councillor allowance."

A Blackburn with Darwen councillor receives a set allowance and can then claim extra expenses for mileage or meals or special responsibility payments for additional roles within the authority.

According to the DWP, the overpayment amounts to £8,911 in incapacity benefit.

Coun Mulla, 55, said he would be continuing his roles with the council and the Council of Mosques, an umbrella organisation which represents Mosques and religious teaching institutions in the country.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions declined to comment on an ‘ongoing case’, except to confirm that an allegation of a failure to report an increase in income - namely his councillor allowance - was at the centre of the charges against Coun Mulla.

The next hearing of the case is scheduled for September 22, at Hyndburn Magistrates’ Court.

Graham Burgess, chief executive of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, said he could not comment due to the ongoing court case.