“Sensible questions” about funding Donald Trump’s Scottish resorts, the court heard

by | Oct 27, 2021 | Golf Resorts

A judicial review of the Scottish Government’s refusal to pursue an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) into the business of the former US President was informed that the money for Mr. Trump’s golf resorts “appeared to be from elsewhere outside the UK.” unlimited funds are injected ”.

The review was filed by Avaaz, a US-based nonprofit activism organization, which petitioned the Scottish Supreme Court after MSPs rejected calls to prosecute a UWO.

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The so-called “McMafia” order allows authorities to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who may have laundered stolen money across the UK.

Civil power is designed to force property owners to disclose their property. If a civil servant or his family cannot prove a legitimate source of their wealth, authorities can go to court to confiscate property.

The position of the Scottish Government is that any decision to apply for a UWO is a matter for the ministers, with the Civil Recovery Unit (CRU), reporting to the Lord Advocate, handling applications to the courts in practice.

Neither the government nor the CRU have confirmed or denied the existence of an ongoing investigation into Mr Trump or his Scottish businesses.

However, regarding the review, Aidan O’Neill QC, Avaaz representative, said that such an attitude was “contrary to good governance”.

Former US President Donald Trump plays a round of golf at his Turnberry resort during his working visit to the UK in July 2018. Image: Leon Neal / Getty

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In his petition to the court, Avaaz stated that there was “no reasonable reason” to suggest that known sources of legitimate income would have been sufficient to fund Mr. Trump’s acquisition of his Scottish properties in Turnberry and Aberdeenshire.

It argues that ministers are required to prosecute an UWO if the relevant requirements of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) are met.

Speaking to the Court of Session, Mr O’Neill stated that the money for Mr Trump’s Scottish assets “is being injected from seemingly unlimited resources from elsewhere outside the UK”.

He said there was no doubt that Mr. Trump was a “politically exposed person” and that there was a “complicated corporate structure” that underpinned ownership of his Scottish property.

“The latest financial statements for the company, which apparently owns Turnberry, show it made a consolidated loss of £ 2.3million in 2019 and £ 10.7million in the previous year,” he said.

“The appendix states that the group is dependent on further financing from its ultimate owner in order to enable the continuation of business operations.”

Mr. O’Neill said the questions about the finances of the Trump real estate related not only to the purchase, but also to maintenance costs and the “ongoing loss” recorded.

He continued, “There are more details on how the Trump organization has worked since then [2019]which sheds light on the question of whether or not reputable sources, known sources, can ever be used for legitimate income. “

In August, the court gave Avaaz permission to challenge ministers’ decision to reject requests for a UWO [and that] A reasonable legal argument had to be put forward on the issues raised in the petition ”.

It came after MSPs voted against a ministerial motion in February to go to court to obtain a UWO against Mr Trump.

The motion tabled by Patrick Harvie MSP, now junior minister in the government, argued that there would be no problem if the Trump organization could provide “reasonable answers to reasonable questions.”

Justice Minister Humza Yousaf said, however, that the prosecution of a UWO would constitute an “abuse of power” that would “fatally undermine our judicial system.”

Mr. Yousaf said it was not right or appropriate for a minister other than the Lord Advocate to be “personally involved in the pursuit of a particular investigation.”

However, at the hearing before Lord Sandison, Mr O’Neill argued that Ministers’ failure to request a UWO in relation to Mr Trump’s assets was “unlawful” and they had a duty to act.

“We have vouched in the materials produced why reasonable questions can be asked about the source of wealth and the continuing source of wealth for funding these particular golf courses in Scotland,” he said.

“Against this background, good governance and the principle of adherence to money laundering standards require openness about what you do about it.”

Earlier, Mr. O’Neill had told the court that ministers had “misdirected” Parliament and “failed to understand” their roles and responsibilities in relation to the use of UWOs.

“Why did you go wrong?” he asked. “This is speculation, but this topic – the search for UWOs against politically exposed persons – is clearly a political hot potato on a certain level.”

He added, “The terms give you that idea. Foreign Politically Exposed Individuals asked to explain to the Scottish Court the origin of their property that enabled them to acquire real estate in Scotland will clearly always be a politically contentious issue at some levels.

“Sometimes politically controversial issues are too hot for politicians, and it would be nice if they could be spun off, so to speak, into the apolitical, purely legal prosecutor’s offices of the Lord Advocate. That seems to be driving some of the responses that have come out in this case, particularly in Parliament. “

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