Great Britain

Scottish ministers urged to seek 'unexplained wealth order' targeting Donald Trump's resorts

Donald Trump acquired the Turnberry resort in 2014 for 35m. Picture: John Devlin
Donald Trump acquired the Turnberry resort in 2014 for 35m. Picture: John Devlin

The Scottish Government has been urged to apply for an unexplained wealth order to investigate Donald Trump’s deals to acquire his Scottish properties.

Patrick Harvie MSP, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, said there were reasonable grounds for suspecting that the US president, or people he is connected with, “have been involved in serious crime.”

He has called on ministers to apply to the Court of Session to seek answers as to how Mr Trump’s bankrolled his multimillion acquisitions of land and property in his mother’s homeland.

Responding at First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon stressed she was “no defender” of Mr Trump, but said any allegations of criminality were a matter for Police Scotland and the Crown Office.

An UWO is a relatively new - and rarely used - power which has been designed to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK.

The mechanism, introduced in 2018, is an attempt to force the owners of assets to disclose their wealth. If a suspected corrupt foreign official, or their family, cannot show a legitimate source for their riches, then authorities can apply to a court to seize the property.

Mr Trump and the Trump Organisation have always stressed that they did not require any outside financing for their Scottish resorts.

George Sorial, the Trump Organisation’s former chief compliance counsel, told The Scotsman in 2008 that it had £1bn “sitting in the bank and ready to go” for its inaugural Scottish course, located in Aberdeenshire.

Scotland on Sunday later revealed how the same year, Mr Trump asked the Bank of Scotland for a 15 year mortgage worth £23m, and a £15m construction loan, as part of his efforts to establish a "landmark" hotel at St Andrews in Fife, the home of golf. The bank refused, and Mr Trump's plans were never realised.

Mr Harvie, an avowed critic of Mr Trump and his administration, said that an UWO was “designed precisely for these kinds of situations.”

He told MSPs: “Trump’s known sources of income do not explain where the money came from in these huge cash transactions. There are reasonable grounds for suspecting that his lawfully obtained income was insufficient.

“Trump is a politically exposed person in terms of the law, and there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that he, or people he is connected with, have been involved in serious crime. Some of them have pleaded guilty.”

He added: “We need to be given confidence that the government will show leadership and use the powers available to it.

READ MORE: Donald Trump's failed attempts to buy landmark St Andrews hotel
“Will the first minister seek a UWO and make it clear that Scotland is not a country where anyone with the money can buy whatever land or property they want, no questions asked?”

It is not the first time there have been calls for an UWO in connection to Mr Trump’s Scottish interests.

Avaaz, the non-profit global activism organisation, has urged Scottish ministers to apply for such an order

Having taken what it described as “expert advice” on financial crime from advocate Bryan Heaney, Avaaz sent a briefing to Ms Sturgeon’s office last April. It has yet to receive a reply.

The issue of the Avaaz briefing was raised by Mr Harvie today, and Ms Sturgeon said she would be happy to revisit the correspondence and inform Mr Harvie about what, if any, action had been taken. She emphasised the “sensitivity” involved in any potential legal action involving the government, and said issues about alleged criminality were a matter for police and prosecutors.

In its 2019 briefing, Avaaz set out what it described as “enough reasonable suspicion as to the nature of Mr Trump’s cash payments for the Turnberry golf resort to justify Scottish ministers’ application for a UWO to investigate the matter.”

It went on: “It is Mr Trump’s own actions that prompt legitimate questions about his income which, if left unanswered, would call into doubt the Scottish Government’s determination to confront the spectre of money laundering.”

Mr Trump acquired the historic Turnberry resort - a four-time host of golf’s Open championship - from Dubai-based Leisurecorp in April 2014 for £35m.

It has yet to turn a profit under his ownership, and the most recent accounts filed with Companies House show it is reliant on loans of £114.9m to its parent undertaking, the Donald J Trump Revocable Trust, a New York-based state grantor trust.

There have been questions surrounding the finances underpinning Mr Trump’s acquisition of land and property in Scotland for years.

In November 2017, Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, told the US Congress he found Mr Trump’s golf courses in Scotland and Ireland to be “concerning.”

Addressing the permanent select committee on intelligence at the House of Representatives, Mr Simpson said the accounts filed with UK authorities did not show any Russian involvement, but they did reveal “enormous amounts of capital flowing into these projects from unknown sources.”

He added: “If you’re familiar with Donald Trump’s finances and the litigation over whether he’s really a billionaire, you know, there’s good reason to believe he doesn't have enough money to do this and that he would have had to have outside financial support for these things.”

The Criminal Finances Act sets out a series of requirements which must be met before an UWO can be granted.

They include satisfying the court that a respondent’s” lawfully obtained income would have been insufficient for the purposes of enabling the respondent to obtain the property,” that the respondent is a “politically exposed person,” or that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that they, or a person connected with them, have been involved in serious crime.

The Trump Organisation has been contacted for comment.

READ MORE: Losses more than double to £10m at Donald Trump's Turnberry resort