His mother was Scottish and Donald Trump has even said he “would love to return to Scotland.” But the Scots are not so enthusiastic with some suspecting he has used their country as a money laundering haven.
A leading QC will argue on Monday (25 January) that Scotland’s government could investigate Trump’s Scottish assets using powers designed to uncover criminal activity and money laundering.
Unexplained wealth orders (UWOs) were dubbed McMafia orders when they were created to uncover mafia-style criminal activity (McMafia was a popular TV show at the time). Now, two legal experts say, UWOs should be used to investigate the former president of the United States.
In a paper that will be sent to Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Monday (25 January), Aidan O’Neill QC and advocate David Welsh will argue that the Scottish government is responsible for seeking a UWO against Trump.
The paper is direct response to Sturgeon’s denial that it is her government’s responsibility to grant a UWO. “Mrs Sturgeon has been avoiding our questions about Trump’s cash purchase of Turnberry for nearly two years, saying the decision is nothing to do with her,” says Nick Flynn, legal director at Avaaz, a campaign group.
Since then, Patrick Harvie, the co-leader of the Scottish Greens party, has raised the issue in Scotland’s parliament on three occasions, most recently on Wednesday (20 January), when he asked Sturgeon to seek a UWO “to ensure that Trump’s purchases in Scotland are given the scrutiny that is urgently needed.”
While Sturgeon said she would read the legal advice, O’Neill, who has previously made life very difficult for Boris Johnson, makes the issue very clear: “It is entirely reasonable to expect the Scottish Ministers … to explain their position on whether and if not why not they are looking into or considering whether to seek a UWO.”
What Does A UWO Mean For Trump?
O’Neill asserts that a UWO “makes no accusation of any criminality.” If authorities are granted a UWO it will allow them to question Donald Trump about how he acquired his Scottish assets, notably Turnberry golf course.
They would probe where the £35.7 million ($46 million) he used to purchase Turnberry came from. Avaaz wants to know if Scotland was exploited as a money laundering haven.
“If you’re not reasonably suspicious about the unexplained cash used to buy Turnberry then I think you’ve been living on another planet,” says Flynn.
He is not alone. Turnberry has been invested by the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. At the time, in 2018, an article in the New Yorker stated, “there simply isn’t enough money coming into Trump’s known business to cover the massive outlay he spent on Turnberry.”
A UWO is a vital tool for getting these answers. If it is then revealed that Trump bought the properties with tainted or dirty money the legal case against him can be escalated and the assets seized.
But answers might be all the Scots get. Since UWOs were introduced in 2017 they have yet to lead to a prosecution. The first one was against the wife of an Azerbaijani banker, Zamira Hajiyeva.
Authorities were curious about how Hajiyeva spent £16 million ($20.6 million) in Harrods, London’s famous department store, while living in a house worth £15 million ($20.5 million) since her banker husband had an official salary of £55,000 ($72,000) a year.
Hajiyeva lost an appeal to overturn the UWO brought against her in December, and authorities will now start their questioning though any legal proceedings are a long way off.
‘Don’t haste ye back’
While Avaaz and O’Neill wait on Scotland’s first minister to read their legal advice Sturgeon has made no secret of her feelings towards Donald Trump.
“Don’t haste ye back,” was her message to Trump when responding to Harvie’s question on Wednesday 20 January. (This roughly translates as, “don’t rush back.”)
And following rumors that Trump might go to Scotland directly after leaving the White House, Sturgeon said he would not be permitted to enter the country due to coronavirus restrictions. “That would apply to him, just as it applies to anybody else.”
But organizations like Avaaz want more than tough words. “The Trumps clearly have future ambitions,” says Flynn. “I don’t think we’ve heard the last of them. They remain dangerous.”
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