Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it was a “ridiculous way to do business” after it emerged one of the firms signed up to the potential investment arrangement was previously at the centre of a bribery scandal.
The First Minister said on Wednesday she was “not aware” there had been corruption allegations against the owner of one of the Chinese companies, but insisted ministers “don’t do due diligence” until formal proposals are put on the table.
But Mr Rennie said: “Nicola Sturgeon signed a so-called agreement of understanding with people that she doesn’t know anything about. This is a ridiculous way to do business. The First Minister needs to explain the protocol for signing such memorandums and whether she complied with that protocol when she signed this one.
“The Norwegian oil fund showed how it should have been done. Even the simplest checks would have revealed cause for concern but the FM did not ask basic questions before putting pen to paper.”
It emerged last week that the First Minister signed a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) with SinoFortone and China Railway No 3 Engineering Group (CR3) which could be worth up to £10 billion.
China Railway Group Limited (CRG), the owner of CR3, has been hit by corruption allegations in its homeland which resulted in Norway’s oil fund blacklisting the firm. Questions were raised over the level of scrutiny of the firms carried out by the Scottish Government.
Speaking on the campaign trail in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said on Wednesday: “We signed a memorandum of understanding to explore options for investment. If we get to the stage where there are any proposals for investment, then full due diligence will be done at that stage. That’s how these things normally happen. There are no actual proposals on the table at this stage, and if that changes then those proposals will go through the normal process.”
Pressed on whether she knew of the allegations against CRG at the time the MOU was signed, she said: “We don’t do full due diligence until we get to the stage of actual proposals.”
The Scottish Government was already under fire from its political opponents for not publicising the MOU when it was signed.