- A looming court battle may see Scotland pursue an investigation of a Trump golf course.
- Campaign group Avaaz says Trump’s $60 million all-cash purchase of the course must be explained.
- Scottish officials have shied away from launching a probe. This case could force them.
A looming court battle in Scotland could see the government there forced into an unprecedented investigation of how former President Donald Trump came to purchase a lavish golf course all in cash.
A campaign group suspicious of the source of Trump’s wealth hopes to prompt a so-called unexplained wealth order — known informally as a “McMafia” investigation — into the purchase.
Nick Flynn, legal director of campaign group Avaaz, told Insider there was a “towering cloud of suspicion” over Trump’s $60 million purchase of Turnberry, the storied resort near Glasgow, in 2014.
The former president purchased the resort using cash, despite having spent his career until then relying on borrowed funds to build his real-estate empire as the self-styled “king of debt.”
The source of the money is a secret. The only hint so far — strenuously denied — is an unverified claim that the money came from Russia.
James Dodson — a famed golf correspondent — claimed that Eric Trump, a director at Turnberry and a second resort in Aberdeenshire, told him in 2014 that the Trump Organization had “all the funding we need out of Russia.”
When the story was widely circulated in 2017, Eric Trump denied Dodson’s claim, describing it as “completely fabricated.” There has been no other explanation offered for the unusual all-cash purchase.
Scotland’s regional government, led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, rejected earlier calls for a money-laundering probe into Trump’s business acquisitions in Scotland.
The resorts provided a backdrop for some memorable moments before and during his presidency. Trump, whose mother was Scottish, has spoken warmly of his heritage and made a point of visiting the country.
He went to Turnberry as a presidential hopeful in June 2016 one day after the UK had voted to the EU, and would later claim — falsely — that he had been there before the result was known and accurately predicted it.
During a trip to the UK in 2018, he headed for Turnberry rather than staying in London, which helped him avoid mass protests including a large blimp was flown outside the Houses of Parliament depicting him as a baby.
Scotland’s justice minister in February this year called Trump a “deplorable individual” but argued that politicians don’t have the powers to initiate unexplained wealth orders.
The latest development is that Avaaz is preparing to take Scotland’s ministers to the Court of Session, the country’s highest civil court. There the group plans to argue that ministers misinterpreted the law, and are wrong to conclude that such an investigation is outside their power.
At a judicial review slated for October 26 and 27, lawyers for Avaaz will argue that ministers do in fact have the ability to initiate an investigation into Trump’s finances.
An unexplained wealth order would allow Scotland to demand that the Trump Organization show how it funded the purchases in Scotland.
In extreme cases, the orders allow for the confiscation of property, even without proving criminality. The intention was to allow authorities to punish organized criminals without reaching the high threshold for criminal prosecution.
“Avaaz’s judicial review of Scottish Ministers is a challenge to their complacency over the $60m in cash Trump used to buy Turnberry golf course,” Flynn told Insider.
“There is a towering cloud of suspicion hanging over this iconic Scottish property which Sturgeon and her ministers have the power to clear away by seeking an unexplained wealth order requiring transparency about the source of the money from Trump.
“Sturgeon has, instead, spent the last 2 years batting away our questions by pretending this is nothing to do with her.
“We hope to help them take responsibility, at last, for unresolved questions regarding Trump that threaten to undermine Scotland’s reputation for the rule of law and financial probity.”
Avaaz believes that if it wins the case, the government would be likely to take on such an investigation. It could still choose not to, even if the court decided that it could, but would have to rely on different reasoning.
A defeat for the government could also increase support for an unexplained wealth order in the Scottish parliament.
Lawmakers voted earlier this year on whether they supported an unexplained wealth order being made, by the motion failed with 32 votes in favor and 89 against.
Again, a vote in favor would not force an investigation to happen, but it could make it harder for officials to resist.
The Trump Organization and the Scottish Government were contacted for comment, but had not replied by the time of publication.
Eric Trump said in February that politicians advocating an unexplained wealth order were “advancing their personal agendas,” Reuters reported.