Unexplained Wealth Orders (Donald Trump)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd February 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

This is a story that goes back a long way. In previous chapters, we saw two successive First Ministers—Jack McConnell and Alex Salmond—actively courting the business interest of Donald Trump, despite already knowing what kind of character he was. We saw the Scottish planning system being overturned for him. We also saw the highest level of environmental protection that any land in Scotland is able to have being overturned; in the end, that protection proved worthless against an environmentally destructive development.

Even before Trump’s candidacy or presidency, he was known around the world to be an untrustworthy, dishonest, racist conspiracy theorist. This was never someone that we should have wanted to associate Scotland’s good name with. Now he is a disgraced former President who left office only after attempting to overturn a democratic election and inciting a violent mob at the Capitol—a mob that was composed of the people he had radicalised: the conspiracists, the white supremacists, the religious extremists, and the grifters of a Republican Party that enabled him. Some people were shocked, whereas others thought that behaviour entirely predictable and in character.

Now that it is all over, maybe some people think that Trump should just go back to being the global joke that he was before he became a global threat. However, people who abuse political office need to be held accountable, not only as a matter of direct justice, but as a clear signal to those who come after them that they will not get away with such abuse. That is why the definition of “a politically exposed person” in the legislation that provides for unexplained wealth orders makes it clear that the status continues after the person has left office. The mechanism is no less relevant to Trump now that he is out of power.

The reasons for the concerns about his financial conduct are long standing and they have been detailed in many places, including reports published by Avaaz and given to the Scottish Government. The purchases in Scotland were part of a very long spending spree, with his spokespeople claiming that he had vast sums of money sitting around and available for investment even though, at the same time, he was apparently being turned down for credit.

The Avaaz report says:

“investigations by the US Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel, the US Congress, and others have unearthed a wealth of evidence tying Mr Trump to alleged ?nancial misconduct, including opening questions about Mr Trump’s ?nancial dealings in Scotland”.

We all know that a number of Trump’s former associates have been investigated and that some have been prosecuted and convicted, including for crimes of dishonesty and financial misconduct.

I have neither the time nor the need right now to go through every single detail of the concerns and questions that surround Trump’s business dealings. That is not what this debate has to be about. We all know what the investigations have shown. The point of this debate and the issue that we bring to the chamber is that it is for Scottish ministers to take action.

I totally understand the principle of independent prosecutors acting without control or guidance in individual cases. When it comes to individual criminal prosecutions, it would be completely wrong for ministers to decide who should be prosecuted and who should not. However, what we are talking about is not a prosecution, but merely going to court and asking for information to be provided.

As the legal opinion that was published recently by Avaaz makes clear, this is a matter of political responsibility for the Government. It says that, as a matter of law, it is simply not possible for the Scottish ministers, including the First Minister, to insulate themselves from the responsibility—legal and political—and accountability for decisions concerning unexplained wealth orders in Scotland. Even if the immediate departmental responsibility for the operation of seeking UWOs has been allocated to the Lord Advocate, that can be only for the purposes of administrative convenience or efficiency. It does not and cannot change the legal responsibilities of the Scottish ministers.

There are reasonable questions to ask a court to put to the Trump Organization. If it can provide reasonable answers to the reasonable questions, it will have no problem. However, the Scottish Government and Scottish ministers have a responsibility to ask those questions, and they cannot maintain the position that they have no ability to act. They do, and so does this Parliament.

I ask that all members back this necessary and relatively modest step towards accountability.

I move,

That the Parliament calls on the Scottish Ministers to use their powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to seek the grant of an Unexplained Wealth Order in respect of Donald Trump’s property transactions in Scotland.