UPDATED11:16, 19 JULY, 2023
Sir Iain Livingstone and Dame Jackie Baillie, Labour’s deputy leader.
Police Scotland’s outgoing chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone confirmed that his detectives were now probing the SNP over misuse of funds as well as potential embezzlement.
The police probe into the finances of the SNP has now been expanded to look at “potential embezzlement” and the “misuse of funds”, Scotland’s outgoing chief constable has confirmed. Operation Branchform was launched two years ago to investigate allegations of fraud relating to £600,000 of funds seemingly raised to fight indyref2.
This has been extended beyond the initial allegation to explore potentially wider criminal ongoings within the nationalist party. The marital home of Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon has been raided by cops, as has the party’s Edinburgh HQ.
Now, Sir Iain Livingstone, who is leaving his role this summer, made the revelations in an appearance on BBC Radio Four. He said: “It’s moved beyond what some of the initial reports were, and that’s not uncommon in investigations such as this.”
He added that the probe, which has been criticised by some SNP figures as being over-the-top, was “prudent, thorough and proportionate.” He also defended the blue evidence tent which was erected outside the former First Minister’s home and was described as something seen at Fred West’s property by James Dornan.
Sir Iain said that it was needed “to protect the interests of justice” as well as the individuals involved and expanded: “We’ve done the right thing. The rule of law and the interests of justice must prevail.”
Three key nationalist figures have so far been arrested in connection with the probe, with Mr Murrell, Ms Sturgeon and former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie being questioned under caution. The ex-First Minister has repeatedly claimed that she is innocent.
Sir Iain was asked why the investigation had taken so long, and was still incomplete two years on. He said: “Investigations into the finances of an organisation, the finances of an individual, are often complex. Investigations around fraud or investigations around potential embezzlement or investigations around the misuse of funds take time.
“You need to go and obtain information from banks and other financial institutions. We can’t just do that automatically. We need to go and seek judicial warrants for that. There needs to be a process around that.
Sir Iain also confirmed that the probe had “moved beyond” what some of the initial reports were i.e. the missing £600k and was now looking at the party finances as a whole. He was asked when it would conclude, and said: “I can’t put any absolute time-frame on it, but matters will progress in a proportionate and timeous manner.”
The SNP has said it will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “It is right that Police Scotland is investigating every aspect of this case. From what was a single complaint, it now appears that there are multiple lines of inquiry and a can of worms has opened up.
“It is clear that Chief Constable Livingstone and his officers are working hard to shine a light on this unedifying period in Scottish politics. A culture of secrecy has clearly enveloped the SNP and the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland deserve answers.”