A Scottish court has ruled that Scottish ministers do not have a “duty” to investigate Donald Trump’s purchase of Turnberry Golf Club with an “unexplained money order”.
The ruling is a victory for the Trump Organization, which has always refused to answer questions about its funding for Turnberry Golf Club. The property is one of two loss-making golf courses that Trump owns in Scotland, which campaign groups have said are funded with dubious funds.
Avaaz, a New York-based campaign group, published a report In 2019 that raised questions about the $60 million Trump paid for Turnberry Golf Club. It seeks clarity about where the money came from, especially since Trump bought assets during a “cash buying spree” when many transactions originated from “highly favorable places for money laundering such as Panama and the former Soviet Union”. .
To answer these questions, Scottish Minister Patrick Harvey introduced a proposal for an unexplained funding order (UWO) to investigate Trump.
A UWO would give Scottish officials the power to question Trump about where the money used to buy Turnberry came from. If they were dissatisfied with Trump’s responses they could confiscate the property using a civil recovery process.
When the motion was defeated in the Scottish Parliament in February, Awaz asked the Court of Session for Scotland for a judicial review of the process. Avaaz argued that it was a “duty” for Scottish ministers to seek the UWO, while Scottish ministers stated that the decision could only be made by the Lord Advocate of Scotland.
Last month, Avaz presented evidence in court. Aidan O’Neill QC, representing Avaaz, showed court accounts that revealed the scale of Turnberry’s financial losses. In 2018 alone, the business lost nearly $10 million, raising further concerns about its financing.
But the ruling published today (25 November) clarifies that the decision to issue a UWO rests with the Lord Advocate for Scotland and not with the Scottish ministers.
In response to the verdict, Avaaz now wants Lord Advocate to take action. Nick Flynn, Avaaz’s legal director, says, “We still firmly believe in the idea that an unexplained estate order should be sought.
“Lord Advocate must act immediately in the interest of the rule of law and transparency, and demand a clear explanation as to where the $60 million used to purchase Turnberry came from.”
But the ruling also pointed out that “Scottish ministers may still make a UWO application in relation to President Trump’s Scottish assets.” This means that Scotland’s parliament could vote again on issuing the UWO if new evidence emerges about Trump’s finances.
Today’s decision comes at a time when Trump’s golf courses are facing some of their biggest legal battles. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has launched an investigation into the Trump Organization’s US golf courses, amid concerns that they may have misrepresented finances to secure favorable loans and tax breaks.
The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment when this article was published, and Donald Trump himself has not spoken publicly on the subject, although in February, his son Eric called the debate on the UWO “pathetic.”