‘Want clear and frank answers!’ SNP in spotlight as fraud probe underway
Nicola Sturgeon announces ease on Scotland restrictions
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Police Scotland say they are investigating after saying it had received seven complaints about donations made to the party. The allegations surround claims made by whistleblowers who say that more than £600,000, which has been ring-fenced for holding a second independence referendum, is missing from the party’s accounts.
It is alleged by certain members the funds were diverted elsewhere.
SNP members had raised concerns about donations to a referendum fund after members of the party’s Finance and Audit Committee claimed they were refused access to accounts by chief executive Peter Murrell.
MP Kenny MacAskill has written to Dorothy Bain QC, Scotland’s new Lord Advocate demanding assurances there will be a “complete separation of government from prosecution”.
This is because as Lord Advocate, Ms Bain acts as the senior legal advisor to the Government as well as the senior prosecutor to the Crown Office.
Therefore concerns have been raised by an investigation that involves the ruling party and its leaders free from political influence due to the fact the SNP is the party of the Scottish Government.
In the letter, Mr MacAskill said: “Your current role sees you both as senior legal advisor to the Government, as well as senior prosecutor.
“Simply recusing yourself from involvement, and leaving it with others in the Crown Office, may very well be inadequate in this case given the parties involved and the nature of your twin role.
“Can I therefore inquire whether any additional steps will be taken to ensure that there is a complete separation of Government from prosecution and that both investigation and consideration will be entirely independent of Government involvement?
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“The chief executive and husband of the First Minister has refused to or not been asked to step aside.
“This despite the elected treasurer of the SNP having resigned from his post finding himself unable to access relevant financial information.
“Can I seek assurances that the investigation will have full access to all necessary information notwithstanding the views of the Government Party or its chief executive?”
It is understood Police Scotland has begun contacting former party officials and it is expected Mr Murell, who has headed up the party since 1999, will also be interviewed as part of the investigation.
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An SNP source added: “Many members want clear and frank answers, especially from the party leadership.
“It is not a good look especially for the leadership who are charged with bringing forward a second independence referendum.”
Questions have also been raised about First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s knowledge of events when she first knew about the “missing” SNP donations.
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie also called for Ms Sturgeon to make a voluntary police statement over the matter.
The Dumbarton MSP added: “It is clear that issues over the SNP’s financial management have been rumbling on for years.
“But rather than deal with the issues they have defaulted to the party playbook – a culture of secrecy and spin.
“The First Minister should make a statement voluntarily to the police to ensure that the investigation is concluded quickly and the public can get the answers they deserve.”
Wendy Chamberlain, Lib Dem MP for North East Fife, said: “The SNP has tied itself in knots over its missing fundraising cash.”
Stephen Kerr MSP, the Scottish Conservatives chief whip, said: “It speaks volumes that even the SNP’s national treasurer can’t get the party to open the books.
“There are obvious questions the leadership have yet to answer for members and even their own politicians.”
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This morning, it also emerged that police were investigating 12 new fraud complaints regarding the donations.
Douglas Chapman, SNP MP for Dunfermline and West Fife resigned as national treasurer of the party last month following the financial row.
Mr Chapman claimed in May he was not given enough information to do the job by party leaders.
Joanna Cherry MP also resigned from the National Executive Committee just days after Douglas Chapman along with three other senior officials.
New SNP National Treasurer Colin Beattie, who was quizzed by party members at a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting last month, insisted the “amounts equivalent to the sums raised” would be spent on campaigning for a second referendum in the near future.
But the SNP MSP refused to separate out the £666,953 which was earmarked for Indyref2 in the 2020 accounts as a “restricted fund”, as the party was under “no obligation to do so”.
An SNP spokesman said: “We will cooperate fully with the investigation and will make no further comment.”
First Minister Ms Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney have also denied any funds were missing with Ms Sturgeon, adding: “Money hasn’t gone missing. All money goes through the SNP accounts independently and fully audited.”
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said they decided to launch an investigation after speaking to the Crown Office, the independent public prosecution service for Scotland.
They added: “After assessment and consultation with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, we will now carry out an investigation.
“Inquiries are continuing and anyone who has any information which may assist with this investigation is asked to contact police.”
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