Petition calls on Scottish Govt to issue Unexplained Wealth Order on Donald Trump

Ben Wray

First Unexplained Wealth Order was issued earlier this month

A US-BASED global activism group has started a petition to back former SNP MP George Kerevan’s call for the Scottish Government to issue an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) on US President Donald Trump.

Kerevan argued in his regular column on Bella Caledonia that the Trump organisation had paid for two Scottish golf resorts and 12 other properties in cash, a payment method that can be a sign of money laundering. Trump’s two Scottish golf resorts, in Turnberry and Aberdeen, have also been raised in the Robert Mueller led investigations in the US, a fact which Kerevan said added to the basis for introducing a UWO.

“If that’s not grounds for ScotGov asking some questions of its own via a UWO, I don’t know what is,” Kerevan said.

The first Unexplained Wealth Order in the UK was introduced earlier this month on Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, a former chairman of the Bank of Azerbaijan who has been convicted of fraud and embezzlement.

UK Government guidance on UWO’s states: “A UWO requires a person who is reasonably suspected of involvement in, or of being connected to a person involved in, serious crime to explain the nature and extent of their interest in particular property, and to explain how the property was obtained, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the respondent’s known lawfully obtained income would be insufficient to allow the respondent to obtain the property.”

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UWO’s were incorporated into UK law in January of this year. Scottish Ministers have the power to apply to the Court of Session for a UWO in respect to any property in Scotland, and relating to any owner of that property internationally. Trump’s Scottish golf courses would therefore fall under that purview.

The campaign group’s petition, directed towards the  Scottish Government, states: “We call on you to immediately employ an Unexplained Wealth Order to investigate how the Trump Organisation purchased its Scottish golf courses, in particular the source of the over £150 million in cash that was used. To end Scotland’s tenure as a playground for money launderers, we need to send a clear message: no one is above the law, not even the US President.”

“When enough of us sign, Avaaz will file a formal demand to back Kerevan,” the petition adds.

In his article, Kerevan, an economist and journalist, linked Trump’s history of financial dealings with Russians to his Scottish golf courses, which the company accounts show have been consistently losing money.

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He wrote: “After a series of bankruptcies in the 1990s left the property business Trump inherited from his father largely unable to borrow from mainstream banks, The Donald turned to Russian backers. This was a time when the former Soviet Union’s new oligarchs were desperately seeking foreign havens for their newfound loot – mostly acquired by dubious means in the chaos that followed the collapse of Communism. In 2008, Trump’s son, Donald Jr, boasted to a real estate conference: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

“And a lot of money it was. For instance, according to a Financial Times special investigation, one Russian oligarch bought a Palm Beach estate from Trump in 2008 for $95m – more than double what Trump had paid for it four years earlier. Reuters reports that in Florida, 63 Russians – some with known political connections – spent $100m buying property at seven Trump-branded luxury tower blocks. Money laundering?

“The economics of Trump’s Scottish businesses are weird to say the least. His Turnberry golf course lost $4.5m (£3.5m) in 2017 – its fourth consecutive year in the red since he acquired the property. To date, Trump has invested over $212m in Turnberry – $67m for the purchase plus an additional $144m for renovation and to cover consistent annual losses.”

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Kerevan added that the Court of Session could legally seize Trump’s Scottish properties if he did not respond to a UWO about them.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Unexplained Wealth Orders are a new investigatory tool for the recovery of the proceeds of serious crime and international corruption. Decisions on if and when to use them will be based on the specific circumstances of each case.”*

In April, the UK Government announced it would be changing Scottish Limited Partnerships amid evidence they were being used for billions of pounds worth of money laundering. One money laundering scheme used 100 SLPs to shift $80 billion out of Russia, according to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

To sign the Investigate Trump petition click here.

*This comment was added in after original publication of the article.

Picture courtesy of Michael Vadon