A Scottish judge on Thursday shot down attempts to force the government to investigate former President Donald Trump’s purchase of two golf courses there, leaving the matter in the hands of the nation’s top prosecutor.
Just as in the United States, where politicians have failed to hold Trump accountable and it’s fallen on local prosecutors to pursue separate investigations, in Scotland the pressure to act is now squarely on Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain.
Scotland’s government has been urged to put Trump through a long-awaited financial colonoscopy for his shady golf resort real estate deals, but Lord Sandison’s 44-page judicial decision means that officials can keep dragging their feet.
There have long been questions about how Trump came up with a reported $60 million cash in 2014 to acquire Trump Turnberry, a golf resort on the windy, green hills of the Scottish county of Ayrshire.
But when the New York-based watchdog nonprofit Avaaz called for the Scottish government to investigate, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon passed the buck by placing that responsibility squarely on the nation’s top prosecutor. Annoyingly, officials also refused to say whether they were actually taking action or not.
Avaaz sued earlier this year, presenting a case for why ministers should be forced to employ a new anti-money laundering tool, called an “unexplained wealth order.” Targeting him with a UWO is a civil matter, not a criminal one. But it would still force Trump to explain how he came up with the money—or risk having it seized. The lawsuit also tried to put the responsibility on government ministers, who are under political pressure to act against Trump.
The judge, Craig Sandison, held a hearing in October where a government barrister argued that the task should be left up to the country’s chief prosecutor and the entire process should be treated with utmost secrecy.
The government even borrowed the CIA’s infamous “Glomar response” by seeking to “neither confirm nor deny” any investigation.
The judge’s order on Thursday sided entirely with the government, leaving the matter up to Bain, who is essentially the nation’s attorney general. Sandison also held back from indicating whether he thought there was any validity to a potential investigation.
“I wish to make it clear that I express no view whatsoever on the question of whether the [criminal law] requirements were or appeared to be met in the case of President Trump,” he wrote.
And he made clear the government could very well still proceed and one day seek a judge’s permission to examine Trump’s finances.
“Further, for aught yet seen the Scottish Ministers may still make a UWO application in relation to President Trump’s Scottish assets,” Sandison wrote.
But he also stressed that government ministers have “wide discretion” on any eventual decision to use this anti-money laundering tool.
Shortly after the ruling, Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn issued a statement demanding action from Bain.
“The law may have been clarified, but a cloud of suspicion still hangs over Trump’s purchase of Turnberry. By any measure, the threshold to pursue a UWO to investigate the purchase has easily been crossed. The Lord Advocate should take urgent action in the interest of the rule of law and transparency, and demand a clear explanation of where the $60m used to buy Turnberry came from,” he said.
The Trump Organization’s corporate entity in Scotland did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Scottish government.
Trump’s two golf courses in Scotland continue to generate questions. Financial documents show that they’ve lost money year after year, racking up millions of dollars in losses—but they remain open.