finance

Judge approves legal challenge to investigate Trump Turnberry deal



A judge has given the green light for a legal challenge against Scottish Ministers over their failure to seek an order to investigate Donald Trump’s $60m purchase of the Turnberry golf course.

Campaigning organisation Avaaz yesterday won permission for a judicial review in a hearing at the Court of Session.

Lord Sandison gave permission for the case to proceed, highlighting “the general and continuing public importance of the legal questions raised”, among other things.

Nick Flynn, legal director at Avaaz, commented: “This means Scottish Ministers will now be challenged in court over their ongoing failure to seek an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) to investigate Trump’s suspicious Turnberry purchase.

“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. Scotland’s reputation for upholding the rule of law and combating money laundering depends on it.”

In April 2019, Avaaz sent Scottish Ministers a briefing on the suspicion surrounding Trump’s cash purchase of Turnberry in 2014.

The briefing set out Trump’s long history of debts, bankruptcies and association with money launderers, making the case for Scottish Ministers to seek a UWO, which would force Trump to clarify where the purchase money for Turnberry came from.

Scottish Ministers have the power to apply to Court for a UWO if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that Trump’s lawfully obtained income was insufficient to fund what he paid for the golf resort.

The judicial review is expected to start later this year at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

In February of this year, the Scottish Green Party brought forward a motion calling on ministers to seek a UWO against Trump over his acquisition of Turnberry. The SNP and Conservatives then voted together (by 89 votes to 32) to amend the motion.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “I’m glad we are a step forward in getting some clarity over why Trump’s business dealings in Scotland haven’t been investigated.

“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 UWO would be a clear signal that business in Scotland must be transparent and accountable, no matter the individual involved.”

The Trump Organization has repeatedly claimed that it used its own money for most of its golf resort acquisitions and upgrades. In 2013, Trump’s son Eric reportedly told a journalist that the company’s golf properties were funded by Russians.

Trump’s Scottish golf courses were raised in a US Congress inquiry as possible money laundering vehicles. Turnberry was the biggest in a $400m spending spree, for which the source of the money remains unexplained.

The Trump Organisation’s chief financial officer Alan Weisselberg is now under criminal investigation into tax fraud in the US.

He is registered at Companies House as a person with significant control of the Trump entity, Golf Recreation, that owns Turnberry and, on 8 July, was removed from the same role at Trump International Golf Club Scotland, the entity owning Balmedie golf course.

A paper put together by Aidan O’Neill QC earlier this year, on behalf of Avaaz, confirms that Scottish Ministers are collectively responsible for the decision to apply for one of the so-called ‘McMafia’ orders – and may not lawfully abdicate that responsibility to anyone else.

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