Scotland’s highest civil court will allow a review of the SNP Government’s decision to knock back calls for a so-called McMafia probe into Donald Trump’s wealth.
The ex US President has two courses in Scotland – his first purchase at the Menie Estate on the Aberdeenshire coast and second at Turnberry in Ayrshire.
Scottish Greens had demanded First Minister Nicola Sturgeon uses an Unexplained Wealth Order to get to the bottom of where his money came from.
But she rejected the call earlier this year, prompting a US-based human rights group, Avaaz, to seek a legal challenge.
The Court of Session, in an opinion published by Lord Sandison on August 11, gave permission to Avaaz to seek a full judicial review of the decision not to pursue the order.
Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, who raised the call with Ms Sturgeon in February, welcomed the move.
‘Scotland’s reputation is at stake’
“I’m glad we are a step forward in getting some clarity over why Trump’s business dealings in Scotland haven’t been investigated,” Mr Harvie said.
“It should never have got to the stage of a legal challenge from an NGO for the Scottish Government to confirm or deny whether they will seek a McMafia order.
“Scotland’s reputation is at stake, and it is entirely within the powers of ministers to defend it.
“An unexplained wealth order would be a clear signal that business in Scotland must be transparent and accountable, no matter the individual involved.”
The Trump International called the campaigners’ plan “political game-playing at its worst”.
Mr Trump bought the site at Menie on heavily protected dunes. It led to a protracted and bitter planning battle which scarred the local council administration and ended up at Holyrood.
Mr Trump has always boasted of his wealth. His course in Aberdeenshire turned in a seventh successive loss, according to reports at the start of this year.
Accounts lodged at Companies House showed Trump International Golf Club Scotland suffered pre-tax losses of just over £1.1million in 2019.
Any idea I would somehow try to protect him from due accountability in Scotland, I don’t think holds much water.”
– Nicola Sturgeon
Ms Sturgeon was also challenged to probe Mr Trump’s wealth shortly before he was sensationally voted out of the White House.
Responding to calls at the time, the First Minister said: “I think everybody is well aware about my views of the soon-to-be former president of the United States, and my views are probably no different to Patrick Harvie’s and many people across Scotland.
“Any idea I would somehow try to protect him from due accountability in Scotland, I don’t think holds much water.
“In terms of unexplained wealth orders, Patrick Harvie and I have had these exchanges before in this chamber. Decisions around that are not for ministers, they are for the Crown Office.”
What do the campaigners say?
Campainers Avaaz, who lodged the challenged at court, said they want to understand more about the purchase of Turnberry in 2014.
The historic resort was bought for more than £40million.
Nick Flynn, legal director at Avaaz, said the latest court opinion means they are a step closer to challenging Scottish Government ministers about the “failure” to seek an Unexplained Wealth Order.
“Armed with a proper understanding of the law, we hope that ministers agree that Trump’s purchase demands the transparency that only a UWO can bring,” he said.
Avaaz sent a briefing to the Scottish Government in 2019 outlining their concerns with Trump’s history of debt and bankruptcies, as well as his “opaque” finances.
They also highlight Trump’s past claims he was able to use cash for big deals.
In a statement, Sarah Malone, Executive Vice President at Trump International Scotland, said: “This is political game-playing at its worst and a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money which further damages Scotland’s reputation as a serious country to invest in and do business.
“We have developed and operate two globally acclaimed, multi-award winning, visitor destinations in Scotland and make a significant contribution to the Scottish leisure and tourism economy. This latest attempt to undermine that investment is an utter disgrace.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on an ongoing legal action.”