Election candidate's 'cult' mate: 'He's still a friend'
HE'S friends with the man a jury found to be "the leader of a socially harmful cult".
But Ray Karam wants voters to consider him on his own merits when the nation goes to the polls in May.
Mr Karam, who owns the Nourish Bulk Health Organic store and In Detail Car Cleaning, was listed on the Richmond electorate ballot when it was drawn on Wednesday.
Running as an independent, he will contest the seat alongside incumbent Justine Elliot (Labor) and fellow candidates Ronald McDonald (Sustainable Australia Party), Hamish Mitchell (United Australia Party), Morgan Cox (Christian Democrat Party), Tom Barnett (Involuntary Medication Objectors), Matthew Fraser (The Nationals) and Michael Lyon (Greens).
Mr Karam (pictured at right) remains close to Serge Benhayon, who a jury in a failed Supreme Court defamation case last year found was "the leader of a socially harmful cult" and "a charlatan".
The findings against Mr Benhayon, who founded Goonellabah-based Universal Medicine, were handed down last August.
"I'm a friend of a lot of people," Mr Karam said.
"He's still a friend of mine.
"I take people on how they are with me.
"I take people on the value that I have in their life and the value they have in my life.
"I take people on face value."
Mr Karam said he hoped the public would do the same for him and consider him as "a man who ... cares about what goes on in his community".
"Obviously the jury's decision is there for people to read," he said.
"If (people) want information about it, actually read the jury's whole finding."
He declined to comment further on the verdict, which found 16 of the 60 defamatory imputations Mr Benhayon had alleged against blogger and former client Esther Rockett were not made out.
The jury found most of the remaining imputations to be "substantially true" and the rest were covered by the honest opinion defence.
Both of these defences held up for most imputations.
Mr Karam stressed he had no involvement in the case.
"It's civil court, people can take from that what they want to," he said.
"I'm running as Ray Karam.
"The people that influence me are the community.
"That's what I'm here for and that's why I'm standing for Richmond. There's no one funding it, this is directly from me."
The 46-year-old ran for mayor on Ballina Shire Council in 2016 and last year vied for Nationals pre-selection in the state seat of Lismore.
By early March, he had retired from the NSW Nationals and is now running as an independent candidate in Richmond.
He said he retained "a lot of respect" for The Nationals but had also attended a Greens event in the past and felt it was time to "move on into other things".
"I feel like (running as an) independent is a better fit for me and a better fit for the community," he said.
Mr Karam hoped his diverse background in policing, business, with Ballina Chamber of Commerce and with the Port Ballina Taskforce would show voters a "well rounded" view of him as a candidate.
He said security in the community and red tape on businesses were among his key focus areas.
"Red tape is a big one for me," he said. I don't see it's actually supporting small businesses to grow."
He said he would also focus on sustainable energy.
"That's something I feel Richmond cares about," he said.
NSW Nationals director Ross Cadell confirmed Mr Karam had been a member of the party for about three years when he spoke to The Northern Star last month.
Mr Karam had run for the Nationals' pre-selection for Lismore, but he was not successful and left the party before last month's state election.
In response to public concern about his friendship with Serge Benhayon, Mr Cadell said there can been no concerns raised with the NSW Nationals executive by party members or the public.