A Scottish judge on Thursday rejected attempts to force the government to investigate the purchase of two golf courses by former President Donald Trump, leaving the case in the hands of the country’s top prosecutor.
Much like in the United States, where politicians have not held Trump accountable and local prosecutors are responsible for conducting separate investigations, in Scotland the pressure to act now rests directly on lawyer Dorothy Bain.
The Scottish government has been urged to subject Trump to a long-awaited financial colonoscopy for his shady real estate deals at a golf resort, but Lord Sandisons’ 44-page court ruling means officials can continue to drag their feet.
There have long been questions about how Trump secured $ 60 million in cash in 2014 to acquire Trump Turnberry, a golf resort in the rolling green hills of the Scottish county of Ayrshire.
But when New York-based non-profit watchdog Avaaz called on the Scottish government to investigate, Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon passed the buck by handing that responsibility over to the country’s top prosecutor. Annoyingly, officials also declined to say whether they were actually taking action or not.
Avaaz filed a lawsuit earlier this year, explaining why ministers should be forced to use a new anti-money laundering tool called the Unexplained Wealth Order. Aiming at him with a UWO is a civil matter, not a criminal matter. But that would still force Trump to explain how he found the money or risk having it seized. The lawsuit also attempted to blame government ministers, who are under political pressure to act against Trump.
Judge Craig Sandison held a hearing in October where a government lawyer argued that the task should be left to the country’s chief prosecutor and that the whole process should be treated with the utmost secrecy.
The government even borrowed Glomar’s infamous CIA response, seeking neither to confirm nor deny any investigation.
Thursday’s judges’ order sided entirely with the government, leaving the matter to Bain, who is essentially the nation’s attorney general. Sandison also declined to say whether he believed there was any validity to a potential investigation.
I want to make it clear that I express no opinion on whether the [criminal law] the requirements were or appeared to be met in President Trump’s case, he wrote.
And he made it clear that the government could very well go on and one day seek permission from a judge to examine Trump’s finances.
Additionally, for all that is yet to be seen, Scottish ministers can still make a UWO request regarding President Trump’s Scottish assets, Sandison wrote.
But he also stressed that government ministers have wide discretion over any possible decision to use this anti-money laundering tool.
Shortly after the ruling, Avaaz chief legal officer Nick Flynn issued a statement demanding that Bain take action.
The law may have been clarified, but a cloud of suspicion still hangs over Trump’s purchase of Turnberry. Regardless of the measure, the threshold to sue a UWO to investigate the purchase was easily crossed. The Lord Advocate should take urgent action in the interests of the rule of law and transparency, and demand a clear explanation of the origin of the $ 60 million used to buy Turnberry, he said.
A spokesperson for Trump Organizations told the Daily Beast that “Lord Sandisons’ decision to reject this ridiculous petition is not surprising.” Sarah Malone, executive vice president of Trump International Scotland, previously issued a statement criticizing the trial for “cluttering the courts with this ridiculous masquerade.”
The Scottish government issued a statement simply acknowledging that a court decision had been made.
The strengths of two golf courses in Scotland continue to raise questions. Financial records show they’ve lost money year after year racking up millions of dollars in losses, but they remain open.
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