Anti-Trump protesters gather at Trump Turnberry in Scotland
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The Court of Session was yesterday told the SNP administration was last year urged by human rights group Avaaz to look into how the Trump Organisation had obtained the funding for the Turnberry resort and the Menie golf course. Representing Avaaz, Advocate Aidan O’Neill QC told judge Lord Sandison Scottish First Minister Ms Sturgeon had failed to understand the law on a form of investigation known as unexplained wealth orders, a mechanism her Government was told it could use in order to look into former US President Mr Trump’s finances.
Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament the Government was not empowered to launch such a probe, with responsibility lying with the Crown Office’s Civil Recovery Unit.
Specifically, she explained the Civil Recovery Unit was politically independent from the Scottish Government – but this position was later reversed, Mr O’Neill said.
However, then-Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf subsequently confirmed the law did in fact allow for the Scottish Government to launch an unexplained wealth order investigation.
Mr O’Neill said Mr Yousaf was right in his assessment, describing Ms Sturgeon’s apparent inability to grasp the situation as “worrying”.
He added that Ms Sturgeon failed to understand the law and branded it as “worrying” that she didn’t have a proper understanding of the legislation.
Mr O’Neill is applying for a judicial review which he hopes will overturn the Scottish Government’s decision not to launch an unexplained wealth order against Mr Trump.
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He said: “Strangely, the First Minister didn’t understand the law and misled Parliament on that point.
“That’s actually significant and worrying for if they have misunderstood the law once and they are in error there’s every likelihood – unless they get proper guidance from the court – that they could do so again.”
The Scottish Green Party demanded an “unexplained wealth order” investigation in February in the face of uncertainty over how Mr Trump had financed the purchases of the courses at Turnberry in 2014 and Menie In 2006.
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The UK Government introduced the UWO orders three years ago in order to help investigations into unexplained sources of wealth that could be money laundering.
Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, who likewise backs calls for a judicial review, said Mr Trump’s unusual pattern of spending and the ongoing civil and criminal cases in the US had offered the Scottish authorities with sufficient grounds to look into his business dealings.
Mr Trump’s son Eric said the claims had “no basis in fact”.
However, acting for the Scottish Government, Ruth Crawford QC, said because Mr O’Neill’s clients had failed to act within three months of the Scottish Government’s refusal – as the law stipulates – the matter should not proceed.
Ms Crawford also insisted Mr O’Neill had misunderstood the law surrounding unexplained wealth orders and that the Scottish Government had acted lawfully.
Urging Lord Sandison to refuse Mr O’Neill’s client permission for a judicial review, she added: “Such an issue is not justiciable. It has no real prospect of success.”
Lord Sandison has said he will take some time to consider his decision.
Mr Trump was defeated by Joe Biden in November’s Presidential election.
The controversy surrounding his development of Turnberry is documented in two documentaries by UK filmmaker Anthony WJ Baxter, You’ve Been Trumped, and You’ve Been Trumped Too.
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