NICOLA Sturgeon insisted yesterday that the SNP knew nothing about Michelle Thomson’s property deals as the party came under pressure to explain why the suspended MP was selected to stand for Westminster.
The First Minister attempted to distance herself and the SNP from the scandal as more questions were raised about Mrs Thomson’s links to a series of property transactions currently under police investigation.
The SNP is using ignorance as an excuse, as it so often does when suspicions arise around the party or its membersJohn Lamont, Scottish Tories’ Chief Whip
Questioned about Mrs Thomson’s business affairs, Ms Sturgeon admitted “serious issues” had emerged this week.
Mrs Thomson has resigned from the SNP front-bench at Westminster and her party membership has been suspended after it was announced that police were investigating deals conducted by her lawyer, who has since been struck off.
Ms Sturgeon sought to limit the damage to the SNP by saying that she and the party had “no knowledge” of Mrs Thomson’s business activities until they were reported in newspapers.
“Serious issues have been raised and those issues deserve to be fully and properly investigated. That’s what will happen,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“I had no knowledge of this, the SNP had no knowledge of this. Allegations have been made, issues have been brought to light and it’s important that they’re investigated in the full and proper way.
“Michelle Thomson maintains that all of her business dealings were entirely within the law. She herself, as I understand it, is not under investigation by police at this stage.
“She’s decided, though, that she wants to step aside from the SNP until this investigation has concluded. I think that’s the thing for her.”
Ms Sturgeon said it was not appropriate for her to elaborate on the detail of the claims while the police investigation was under way.
“We now have to allow that investigation to take its course,” Ms Sturgeon added.
Asked if the revelations were embarrassing for the party, the First Minister said: “I don’t want to be in a situation where any elected representative is stepping aside because there is an investigation of any nature into aspects of their business dealings – clearly that’s not a situation I would have chosen to have.”
The police investigation relates to solicitor Christopher Hales who was struck off last year for professional misconduct.
It has now emerged that all 13 of the transactions he was struck off for involved Ms Thomson or M&F Property Solutions, a firm in which she was said to be a partner.
After a hearing in May 2014, the Scottish Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal said Mr Hales failed to provide mortgage companies with key information used to prevent fraud and must have been aware that there was a possibility he was facilitating mortgage fraud, whether or not it occurred.
In some cases, loans obtained for the properties were greater than the actual purchase price.
Mrs Thomson, who was a key figure in Business for Scotland during the independence referendum campaign, and her husband Peter are believed to have built up a property portfolio worth about £1.7 million.
In one case explored in detail by the tribunal, Mrs Thomson bought a three-bedroomed terraced house near Aberdeen for £245,000 and on the same day in June 2010 sold it for £315,000 to a person to whom she was “connected”.
The tribunal ruled that the quick sale or “back-to-back transaction” was not disclosed by Mr Hales to the mortgage lender, in this case Birmingham Midshires.
Mrs Thomson, the MP for Edinburgh West, insists she has always acted within the law and will fight to clear her name.
Yesterday Labour wrote to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, urging him to explain what action party officials took to satisfy themselves that Mrs Thomson would make a suitable MP.
Jackie Baillie, Labour’s public services spokeswoman, has outlined her concerns about the SNP’s vetting procedures in a letter to Mr Murrell, who is also the husband of Ms Sturgeon.
In her letter, Ms Baillie said: “At the heart of this scandal are vulnerable families who have been taken advantage of by an SNP politician more interested in making money than helping people. In public the SNP talked about helping those in need whilst in private one of their leading voices on business was making life miserable for vulnerable families.
“We need to know from the SNP who knew what and when. At what point did Nicola Sturgeon and senior SNP officials first become aware of this situation and what did they do about it?
“The reputation of politics isn’t high at the best of times. We need full transparency from the SNP on this scandal.”
Last night the Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “The SNP is using ignorance as an excuse, as it so often does when suspicions arise around the party or its members. But the public will find it hard to believe something so serious slipped under the radar of such a professional and lavishly funded outfit.”
In a separate move, Ms Baillie has called on the Lord Advocate, Scotland’s most senior law officer, to make an urgent statement to Holyrood on the matter.
Ms Baillie said the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland needed to make a statement to address concerns about the Crown Office’s handling of the case and why it had only become public now.
Ms Baillie wants to know if there was any delay between when the Crown Office was first made aware of the Law Society’s concerns about the property deals in December 2014 and the instruction to get Police Scotland to investigate.
The Crown Office has said it was not made aware of Mrs Thompson’s involvement until July this year and the police were called within a week.