Court action seeks judicial review of Donald Trump Unexplained Wealth Order

The Scottish Government is facing the prospect of a judicial review over its decision not to go to court to investigate the financing behind Donald Trump’s Scottish resorts.

The campaign group, Avaaz, has brought the legal challenge to Scotland’s highest court, just three months after MSPs voted against pursuing an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) against the former US president’s businesses.

The petition, served at the Court of Session, seeks to make clear that the decision over whether or not to pursue one of the orders rests solely with the Scottish Government.

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It argues that ministers “must act collectively,” and have a duty to seek an UWO in any circumstances where the relevant requirements set out in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 are met.

The petition said that by failing to pursue an UWO, ministers have “failed in their duty” and “acted unlawfully.”

Lawyers acting for Avaaz have also written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, emphasising that while the Civil Recovery Unit can carry out the administrative work involved in the application for a UWO, the decision to apply rested with ministers.

The correspondence states that if the government neither confirmed nor denied its intention to pursue an UWO against Mr Trump, it would regard such a response as “unlawful.”

The development will reignite the debate over whether the government can - or should - use the rarely used power against Mr Trump.

Questions have long been asked about the finances of Donald Trump's flagship Turnberry resort. Picture: Jan Kruger/GettyQuestions have long been asked about the finances of Donald Trump's flagship Turnberry resort. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty
Questions have long been asked about the finances of Donald Trump's flagship Turnberry resort. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty

The mechanism is designed to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK, and force them to disclose their wealth.

If a suspected corrupt foreign official, or their family, cannot show a legitimate source for their riches, authorities can go to court to seize the property.

In its petition – which was filed with the court on Thursday, and served on ministers today - Avaaz contends that “there are no reasonable grounds to suspect that known sources of lawfully obtained income would have been sufficient” to enable Mr Trump - either directly or indirectly - to acquire his Scottish assets.

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MSPs reject calls for Unexplained Wealth Order into Donald Trump's finances
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It adds that the “continued misapplication” of the law posed a “real risk of permitting corruption and money laundering to go unchallenged.”

Nick Flynn, legal director at Avaaz, said: “It raises eyebrows as to why ministers are not availing themselves of this ability to put questions to the Trump Organisation. If Trump can't explain the source of the money, then the Scottish Government has the responsibility to take action."

The vote over whether ministers should seek the UWO was brought to the Scottish Parliament in February by Patrick Harvie co-convenor of the Scottish Greens.

In an opposition debate, he argued that the Trump Organisation would have “no problem” if it could provide “reasonable answers to reasonable questions.”

However, 89 MSPs voted for an amendment tabled by Humza Yousaf, the then justice secretary, which cautioned against “political interference in the enforcement of the law.” Some 32 MSPs voted against it. Mr Yousaf told parliament that the Civil Recovery Unit would not confirm or deny whether any investigation into Mr Trump was underway.

The Trump Organisation has been contacted for comment.

On the eve of February’s vote, Eric Trump, executive vice-president of the Trump Organisation accused politicians of pursuing “personal agendas,” and described Mr Harvie as a “national embarrassment.”

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