Lord Advocate urged to investigate Donald Trump's Scottish businesses in light of former US president's mounting legal woes
Avaaz, the global activism organisation that led an unsuccessful petition for a judicial review to force an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) against Mr Trump, has written to Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC, calling on her to launch a probe into the funds underpinning his acquisition of the prestigious Turnberry resort in South Ayrshire.
It stressed that in the wake of the Trump Organisation being found guilty of criminal tax fraud by a New York jury, and the “serious accusations” of fraud and misrepresentation involving Mr Trump’s Scottish properties detailed in an ongoing civil case brought by Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, Ms Bain should clarify her stance over the use of the so-called ‘McMafia’ order.
The rarely used civil investigative power allows authorities to target suspected corrupt foreign nationals who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK. Wealthy individuals subject to the orders if there is reason to suspect corruption are forced to explain the source of their assets.
Two years ago, New York-based Avaaz went to the Court of Session to challenge Scottish ministers’ refusal to place a UWO on Mr Trump relating to his purchase of Turnberry as well as his inaugural Scottish resort in Balmedie, Aberdeenshire. It argued the Government had misunderstood the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, and the law did not allow the Lord Advocate to have a role in deciding whether UWOs should be granted.
But in a written judgement, Lord Sandison said ministers had acted lawfully and in line with the legislation. In the wake of that ruling, Avaaz said it “put the spotlight” on the Lord Advocate to make a “clear decision” on whether or not an UWO will be pursued.
Now it has stepped up its calls for Ms Bain, the ministerial head of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), to clarify her position given recent developments in the US. In the letter, Avaaz told her the recent criminal proceedings against the Trump Organisation “add great weight” to the “already compelling” case for her to seek an UWO against Mr Trump.
It also points out the civil lawsuit filed by Ms James specifically details allegations the Trump Organisation used schemes to inflate the value of both Turnberry and Trump International Scotland. Ms James’s lawsuit accuses Mr Trump’s firm of using “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of its assets to obtain economic benefits.
The letter, also sent by Avaaz to Keith Brown, the justice secretary, adds the US House select committee investigating the 2021 attack on the US Capitol had also recommended the US Department of Justice bring criminal charges against Mr Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Such developments, said Nick Flynn, head of legal at Avaaz, exposed a “stark contrast” between the “clear determination” by US authorities to hold Mr Trump accountable, and the “continued refusal” of their counterparts in Scotland to confirm any investigation was underway or pending.
“That refusal to confirm or deny an investigation has never been justified in our view,” Mr Flynn’s letter states. “It now lacks any credibility in the light of the New York Attorney General’s [claims] of serious fraud in connection with Turnberry and Balmedie and the Manhattan District Attorney’s successful prosecution of the Trump Organisation for criminal fraud.”
The letter, sent on the eve of the second anniversary of the Capitol attacks, adds: “To maintain confidence in Scottish fiscal probity, the Scottish public needs the assurance that Mr Trump’s cash purchase of an iconic course in the birthplace of golf was funded from lawful income.”
The document concluded: “It is nearly four years since we first raised reasonable suspicions concerning the lawfulness of Mr Trump’s income … … as the [Capitol attacks] anniversary reminds us, Mr Trump’s [actions are] a direct and present threat to the rule of law, democracy and financial probity wherever his influence is felt. After a slow start, American authorities have recognised the seriousness of that threat and are now taking determined action.
“Turnberry is the jewel in Mr Trump’s corrupt property empire. We respectfully suggest it is time for you, the Lord Advocate, to clarify whether you have already, or will now seek a UWO to dispel the cloud of suspicion hanging over this iconic Scottish course.”
A spokesman for the COPFS said: “The COPFS is committed to the rigorous, fair and independent prosecution of crime. Careful consideration is given to any reports of alleged criminal conduct which are submitted by the police, or any specialist reporting agency. Prosecutorial action will be taken if the reports contain sufficient evidence of a crime and if it is appropriate and in the public interest to do so.
“Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, only Scottish ministers can apply for an Unexplained Wealth Order to the Court of Session in Scotland. In practice, cases are investigated by the Civil Recovery Unit, who report to the Lord Advocate as the minister to whom portfolio responsibility for Civil Recovery Unit has been allocated.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Any decision on whether to apply to the Court of Session for an Unexplained Wealth Order is made on behalf of Scottish ministers by the Civil Recovery Unit, which reports to the Lord Advocate. It would not be appropriate to comment as those decisions are entirely operational matters for the Civil Recovery Unit.”
Neither the Trump Organisation nor Mr Trump’s office responded to enquiries from Scotland on Sunday.
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