London — Scotland’s parliament voted down a motion Wednesday calling on the government to pursue a civil investigation into the financing of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Scottish golf courses. The leader of Scotland’s Green Party, Patrick Harvie, had called for the vote to “protect Scotland’s good name from association with the toxic Trump brand.”
Scottish ministers instead passed an amendment to Harvie’s motion stating the power to launch an investigation into Mr. Trump’s finances lay with the Civil Recovery Unit, an independent investigative body that reports to the Lord Advocate — Scotland’s equivalent of the attorney general. The amendment said, “to preserve the rule of law, there must not be political interference in the enforcement of the law.”
“Unfortunately, today’s debate confirmed the Scottish Government remains unwilling to investigation Trump’s golf courses,” Harvie said in statement after the vote. “Scotland cannot be a country where anyone with money can buy whatever land and property they want, no questions asked.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s debate, Harvie said he was seeking the investigation, in part, to protect Scotland’s tourism industry.
“It’s an important part of Scotland’s economy and our society, and it should not be tarnished by association with this white supremacist, extremist, dangerous liar and bully,” Harvie told CBS News.
He also said Mr. Trump’s Scottish developments had hurt the environment.
“We have a long standing tradition in that land in Scotland is managed in everybody’s interests, not just with the interests of a handful of wealthy people, and that environmental protection is supposed to mean something. What we’ve seen is that environmental protection being ripped up for a pretty empty promise around jobs, which never really materialized in the end anyway,” Harvie said.
Eric Trump issued a statement on the eve of the vote, saying the Trump Organization had rescued iconic properties in Scotland from dereliction and created many jobs.
“Patrick Harvie is nothing more than a national embarrassment with his pathetic antics that only serve himself and his political agenda,” Eric Trump’s statement said. “If Harvie and the rest of the Scottish Government continue to treat overseas investors like this, it will deter future investors from conducting business in Scotland, ultimately crushing their economy, tourism and hospitality industries.”
“As entertaining as Eric Trump’s tantrum is,” Harvie responded, “he doesn’t say where his dad got the money to buy his Scottish golf courses, which is exactly why I’m calling on the Scottish Government to seek an unexplained wealth order.”
“When you have serious concerns, you ask questions”
Harvie called for the probe into the financing of Mr. Trump’s Scottish properties using a U.K. civil investigatory tool called an “Unexplained Wealth Order.”
Under the terms of an Unexplained Wealth Order a current or former political figure from outside the European Economic Area can be compelled to show financial information to demonstrate how they lawfully came to own their property in the U.K. Failure to comply can result in property being seized by the state.
“It was always intended to deal with things like corruption by senior government officials. And I think at the time [Unexplained Wealth Orders were created] there was a lot of expectation that that would be things like developing countries or perhaps former Soviet bloc countries,” Harvie told CBS News. “I doubt many people thought that a U.S. president would be a reasonable case for using these orders.”
“We have to satisfy ourselves that the swirling innuendo of financial impropriety that surrounds Trump is not involved in any way with his acquisition of these businesses,” Harvie said.
Trump’s Scottish golf courses
The Trump Organization owns two golf resorts in Scotland, one in Aberdeen and one in Turnberry. Both, as reported by the Washington Post, were purchased in 2014 and refurbished with massive injections of cash. But U.K. financial documents show that both resorts have consistently lost millions of pounds.
For the 2019 financial year, Aberdeen reported net losses of 1,103,249 pounds and Turnberry reported net losses of 2,307,000 pounds, though the latter also reported around 300,000 pounds in operating profits (a figure which excludes taxes and some long-term expenses).
For 2018, Aberdeen reported net losses of 1,072,831 pounds and Turnberry reported net losses of 10,775,000 pounds.
On a 2020 United States Office of Government Ethics form, Mr. Trump reported that Turnberry and Aberdeen were worth over $100 million combined, but there is little evidence of that in the more detailed U.K. financial disclosures, which suggest the properties are more than 150 million pounds (about $205 million) in debt.
When the discrepancy between his U.S. and U.K. filings was first reported by the Huffington Post in 2019, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer responded by saying that, “while both filings provide financial information, the filings each have distinct reporting requirements and standards. Thus, the two filings cannot and should not be compared.”
“There are very serious questions, particularly around how Donald Trump or the Trump Organization acquired the cash to undertake these transactions, having previously been turned down for loans when they were looking to take credit, and especially in the middle of a global downturn,” Harvie told CBS News. “There are very serious grounds to ask these questions. And I wouldn’t want to go into making allegations about what the answers would be.”
A Scottish election issue?
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, said last year that it was for Lord Advocate — the Scottish equivalent of the attorney general — to determine whether an Unexplained Wealth Order should be taken out against the Trump Organization.
But she added: “Everybody is probably well aware about my views of the soon-to-be-former president of the United States… the idea that I would somehow try to protect him from due accountability in Scotland I don’t think holds much water.”
Harvie argued that the power to seek to launch an investigation lay with government ministers, but the amendment approved Wednesday said that the work of the independent CRU was done “on behalf of” Scottish ministers, and that it was CRU practice to neither confirm nor deny whether an investigation was ongoing.
Nevertheless, Harvie says the case to investigate Mr. Trump’s Scottish holdings is strong, and that it may become an issue in the upcoming Scottish elections in May.
“The idea that Scotland gives him a free pass on these serious questions and continues to have a good name associated with a toxic Trump brand, I think a lot of voters will not accept that, and will want to see those questions answered.”
CBS News’ Moneywatch’s Stephen Gandel contributed to this report.