SNP faces three-pronged attack from Labour, Tories and LibDems over ‘culture of cover-up’
Tory Craig Hoy, Labour’s Jackie Baillie and LibDem Christine Jardine attacked SNP.
By Bill Heaney
The Sunday Mail published yet more exclusive revelations about Operation Branchform, the police inquiry into the financial affairs of the SNP which is centred on whether party funds were used to buy everyday items through an Amazon account.
Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie,Scottish Labour’s Deputy Leader, said: “The plot thickens and thickens. This investigation goes to show how pervasive the culture of cover-up is at the heart of the SNP. Scotland deserves so much better than intrigue and sleaze from the SNP.”
Tory chairman Craig Hoy added: “No wonder the Police Scotland investigation is so long and painstaking.
“Everyone who is questioned in relation to this has a duty to co-operate fully so that the police can get to the bottom of this increasingly murky SNP scandal.”
And Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine, one time journalist on a West Dunbartonshire weekly paper, said: “Scotland needs a government who are focused on tackling long waits in the NHS, the cost of living crisis and preventing sewage pouring into our rivers, not one looking over their shoulder in case there is another knock on the door.”
A Police Scotland source told the Sunday Mail that the list of party purchases ranges from ‘quite expensive items to cheap everyday products’ but all together ‘they could add up to a very serious criminal allegation’.
Operation Branchform is centred on whether SNP funds were used to buy everyday items through an Amazon account, it emerged today.
This latest sensational story in the Sunday Mail revealed that detectives are investigating more than 1,000 alleged instances of fraud as part of their huge probe into the party’s finances.
Tory chairman Craig Hoy said: “The sheer number of alleged offences being investigated here is what you might expect from a probe into an organised crime syndicate, not a political party.”
The investigation focuses on an Amazon account which could be linked to party funds and was used for purchases ranging from “quite expensive items to cheap everyday products”.
The Sunday Mail also revealed more details about the £110,000 motorhome seized by police from the driveway of former First Minister’s Nicola Sturgeon’s mother-in-law.
It was purchased from the Erwin Hymer Centre Travelworld in Staffordshire before being driven 300 miles to Dunfermline by two men in early 2020.
Meanwhile, police are now conducting a second round of interviews of several people who have already been spoken to as witnesses. Ms Sturgeon herself has not been questioned.
A source told the paper: “There has been an Amazon account which may have been linked to SNP funds and purchases from that account are being looked at very closely.
“There are over 1000 individual items that the police are looking at as potential instances of fraud and go back a number of years.
“Goods range from quite expensive items to relatively cheap everyday products but the point is that all of these things together could add up to a very serious criminal allegation.
“Companies and political parties cannot just spend money any way they want, there are rules about how people are paid and there are obviously huge tax implications as well.
“Everything needs to be properly accounted for legally and that is what the police are looking at here.
“It is an ongoing inquiry, just because there hasn’t been any more arrests doesn’t mean nothing is happening, quite the opposite is true.
“A team of specialist officers are working on this full time, going through all of the accounts and matching entries up with what has been paid for via SNP bank accounts and then looking at where individual items that have been purchased have ultimately ended up.
“Officers are now going to be going back to several people they spoke to as witnesses and re-interviewing them armed with the evidence that has been collected.”
‘The plot thickens and thickens’
Operation Branchform was set up in 2021 following complaints that more than £600,000 in “ring-fenced” donations for the SNP’s promised Indyref2 campaign had disappeared.
Around that time, the SNP’s former chief executive Peter Murrell – Ms Sturgeon’s husband – gave the party a £107,620 interest free loan, which was not disclosed to the Electoral Commission until a year later.
Mr Murrell was forced to resign in March this year over an attempted cover-up of the SNP’s declining membership numbers.
Weeks later, both he and former party treasurer Colin Beattie were arrested and questioned as suspects in the fraud probe before being released without charge.
The Glasgow home he shares with Ms Sturgeon was searched for two days at the same time as officers raided SNP headquarters in Edinburgh removing dozens of boxes of documents.
The same day police seized the luxury motorhome from outside the home of Murrell’s mother in Fife.
The motorhome dealership in Stafford, which sold the vehicle, refused to comment.
A Erwin Hymer Centre Travelworld dealership spokesman said: “Unfortunately, due to customer confidentiality, we are unable to assist with this inquiry.”
The investigation centres on the purchase of everything from pots and pans to luxury pens, jewellery and other household items including a fridge freezer. Police are also seeking burner phones and sim cards.
First Minister Humza Yousaf has admitted he has seen a list of items on a warrant that police either have seized or want to trace.
Scottish Labour’s Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie said: “The plot thickens and thickens. This investigation goes to show how pervasive the culture of cover-up is at the heart of the SNP. Scotland deserves so much better than intrigue and sleaze from the SNP.”
Mr Hoy added: “No wonder the Police Scotland investigation is so long and painstaking.
“Everyone who is questioned in relation to this has a duty to cooperate fully so that the police can get to the bottom of this increasingly murky SNP scandal.”
And Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine said: “Scotland needs a government who are focused on tackling long waits in the NHS, the cost of living crisis and preventing sewage pouring into our rivers, not one looking over their shoulder in case there is another knock on the door.”
The SNP has said they are not paying Mr Murrell’s legal fees.
But the party is understood to have engaged lawyer Stuart Munro, whose expertise includes “white collar crime” and who represented the former administrator of Rangers Football Club in a major fraud prosecution.
A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “As the investigation is ongoing we are unable to comment further.”
The SNP said: “These issues are subject to a live police investigation. The SNP have been co-operating fully with this investigation and will continue to do so.”
Amazon declined to comment to the Sunday Mail.