Calls for Prestwick Airport's links with US military to end over Donald Trump 'corruption allegation'

Donald Trump's Turnberry hotel and its links with US military staff and Prestwick Airport are under investigation by Congress.
Donald Trump's Turnberry hotel and its links with US military staff and Prestwick Airport are under investigation by Congress.
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An influential committee in the US Congress has threatened the Pentagon with subpoenas unless it releases details of US military spending at President Donald Trump’s flagship Scottish resort.

In a further twist to the growing scandal surrounding the US government, Trump Turnberry and the Scottish Government-owned Glasgow Prestwick Airport, the House Oversight Committee warned it would “consider alternative measures” if the US Defence Department did not disclose details of expenditure at Mr Trump’s loss making South Ayrshire hotel and golf course.

It comes as Scottish Greens co-leader, Patrick Harvie MSP, said the airport’s dealings with the US military should be suspended, warning that otherwise the Scottish Government risked damaging the country’s international reputation

Mr Harvie told Holyrood that the House committee’s investigation into the Trump administration's potential conflicts of interest over military spending at Prestwick and his Turnberry golf resort, could see Scotland's "good international name dragged into a corruption allegation.”

There is escalating scrutiny of stayovers at the historic resort on the Firth of Clyde by US military aircrews and an upsurge in spending at the struggling airport.

As revealed by The Scotsman, the heavily indebted hub has received approximately £14m since October 2017 via a lucrative aircraft refuelling contract with the US Defence Logistics Agency, which manages the global supply chain for the US Army, Air Force, and Navy. The deal is the airport’s single biggest revenue stream by far.

The US congressional inquiry, in tandem with an internal investigation launched by the US Air Force, has also increased pressure on the Scottish Government to disclose the extent of the airport’s relationship and revenue generation from the US military.

The House Oversight Committee initially demanded answers from the Pentagon in June, but its inquiry only became public last week via Politico reports which subsequently detailed at least four stopovers by US aircrews at Trump Turnberry since last September.

In the committee’s latest letter, issued yesterday,Democrats Elijah Cummings and Jamie Raskin proposed issuing subpoenas and stressed that Mr Trump and his firm have had “significant, direct, and detailed interactions” with the airport for years.

Citing reports in The Scotsman dating back to 2016, which revealed how the Trump Organisation negotiated room rates directly with the airport, and detailed Mr Trump personal attempts to boost passenger traffic at Prestwick they said the US president’s actions “reflect how critical this airport is to his financial bottom line.”

Mr Trump has previously denied all knowledge of air crews staying at his property, which has run up losses for four successive years under his ownership, and remains reliant on £107m of loans.

At Holyrood, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for transport, Michael Matheson, was quizzed by MSPs about the Scottish Government's knowledge of the links between Prestwick and Turnberry.

Asking Mr Matheson if it was time to "suspend" the relationship until the US investigation was concluded, Mr Harvie said: “Controversy around the use of Prestwick by the American military has been long-standing, including extraordinary rendition flights and active military missions. Scottish Greens have repeatedly raised this in Parliament.

“The fact its use is now being investigated by US Congress risks Scotland’s reputation being dragged into a corruption allegation. We should not stand by as Scotland’s good name is tarnished by association with the toxic Trump brand."

But Mr Matheson said: "It's entirely a matter for Congress and US authorities to conduct any investigation they see as appropriate. The arrangement that Prestwick Airport has in place is to arrange accommodation as and when requested and they have 13 different hotels to provide that facility."

Pressed further, by Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles, he added: "It's important to make clear that Prestwick, like all other airports providing fixed base operations, arranges overnight accommodation for aircrew when asked to do so. It uses a list of 13 hotels, some of which pay Prestwick commission. Turnberry is only booked if other hotels are unavailable or customers specifically request it.

"There is no commercial relationship between Prestwick and Turnberry. It does not benefit from commission or in any other way from booking Turnberry and customers settle their own accounts directly with the hotel."

Mr Matheson said that the airport operates "at arms length" from the Scottish Government, and said all information on "revenue streams is made available in annual accounts which are available online and laid in parliament."

But he added: "To protect the commercial interests of the business, information on revenue is not broken down by individual customers in the published accounts."

He stressed that the airport's relationship with the US military was in its eighth decade and that it was a growth area. "Since the 1930s it's been used by military for stopovers and refuelling. It's an area where there has been an increase in growth within the work that Glasgow Airport and Prestwick Airport undertake - growth in revenue from refuelling and restovers and that's a reflection of pro-active work which the management team have undertaken."

However, Mr Rumbles accused Mr Matheson of being either “deliberately evasive” or that “he hasn’t the foggiest clue what is going on at an airport that is costing taxpayers millions of pounds.”

He added: “The Scottish Government should come clean as to how much money they are receiving from the US military and what deals with Donald Trump’s business empire have been struck on the side.

“Michael Matheson will need to be a bit more on top of his brief if a Congressional investigation comes calling.”

The Scottish Government bought Prestwick Airport for £1 in 2013 when it was facing closure. It has also given it £40m in loans before putting it up for sale in June.

Asked about the potential sale of the airport, Mr Matheson said the management team was currently assessing bids. Mr Harvie later said the Prestwick site should be "transitioned into a low-carbon alternative, not sold to the highest bidder.”