SCOTLAND’S top law officer has rebuked UK Business Secretary Vince Cable for asking prosecutors to speed up a decision on possible legal action against the directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland at the time of the financial giant’s collapse.
Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland challenged Mr Cable over his decision to write to the Advocate General Lord Wallace - rather than the Crown Office saying he was “disappointed” at the Lib Dem cabinet minister’s intervention.
Mr Cable told Lord Wallace - a former Scottish Lib Dem leader - that he hoped to see a decision “as quickly as possible” on whether to pursue prosecutions.
However, Mr Mulholland insisted that Lord Wallace “has no role” in the investigation” about the actions of the lender’s leadership, which left RBS needing a £45.5 billion taxpayer-funded rescue.
The Scottish government’s most senior law officer also appeared to warn UK ministers to stay out of the case saying it would be “unfortunate” if Mr Cable’s intervention was “construed as attempted interference”.
The matter was referred to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in January 2012, following a damning report into the bank’s failings by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
Mr Cable said he was “very keen” for a quick decision in order to “maintain public confidence” in his letter to Lord Wallace - the UK government’s top Scottish law officer.
The minister said his intervention was partly due to “considerable public concern” about the actions of the directors of RBS prior to its insolvency.
However, Mr Mulholland insisted that Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) had the sole responsibility for the investigation.
Mr Mulholland said: “I am disappointed to hear that the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has written to the Advocate General in such terms.
“The Advocate General has no role in the investigation or prosecution of crime in Scotland.
“It would be unfortunate if this were to be construed as attempted interference with independent investigation and prosecutorial decision making by the Law Officers.
“In the wake of widespread public concern about reported issues in the banking sector, I instructed an investigation into allegations involving the Scottish banking sector.
“That investigation has been led by the COPFS Serious and Organised Crime Division.
“The investigation is complex and ongoing and the volume of material being considered is vast.”
Mr Mulholland went onto say that allegations of criminality should be investigated by COPFS and “not communicated through the media” as he criticised the Business Secretary’s approach to Lord Wallace.
He said: “Crown Office officials have kept BIS officials appropriately advised of progress throughout the investigation and confirmed on several occasions that in Scotland it is the Lord Advocate who is the sole prosecuting authority and that he acts independently in the public interest.
“Public confidence in Scotland into the investigation of allegations of criminality occurring here is best maintained by thorough independent investigation by the COPFS and not communicated through the media.”
Mr Mulholland said that he would “be happy to brief” Mr Cable on the progress and timescales of the inquiry if the minister contacted him directly.
However, the Crown Office yesterday refused to set out the latest progress and timing of the case.
A spokesman for Mr Cable’s department said that the minister had “copied Mr Mulholland in on the letter to Lord Wallace, but confirmed it would not approach the Lord Advocate directly.
The spokesman for the UK’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Vince Cable wrote to the Advocate General out of courtesy as a fellow Minister.
“He has also copied this to the Lord Advocate as well and looks forward to his reply.”
Lord Wallace, a former Deputy First Minister, last night refused to intervene in the row between Mr Cable and Mr Mulholland.
A spokesman for the Office of the Advocate General said: “Prosecutions in Scotland are entirely a matter for the Crown Office and the Lord Advocate.
“It would not be appropriate for the Advocate General to offer any comment.”