19 July 2023

Police investigation into SNP finances – what we know so far

19 July 2023

Police Scotland’s chief constable has discussed the police investigation into the SNP’s finances, saying the probe has “moved beyond” initial reports.

Sir Iain Livingstone also said the length of the investigation would be “proportionate and timeous”.

It comes after former SNP leader and first minister Nicola Sturgeon was arrested as part of the investigation – later being released without charge.

Ms Sturgeon, 52, was the third senior SNP figure to be taken into custody after her husband Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive; and Colin Beattie, the party’s ex-treasurer.

An investigation into the party’s finances has been ongoing since July 2021.

– May 2021 – MP quits party finance role

Douglas Chapman resigned from his role as treasurer, saying he had not been given enough information to do his job.

Senior figures in the party, including Ms Sturgeon, later disputed his assessment.

Joanna Cherry, a vocal internal critic of the party’s leadership, also resigned from her role on the national executive committee (NEC).

– July 2021 – Police open investigation

Police Scotland confirmed they were investigating after seven complaints were made around donations to the SNP.

This followed allegations that £600,000 raised for campaigning towards Scottish independence was diverted elsewhere.

Earlier, the police force said they were assessing a fraud allegation relating to £600,000 of funds “to determine if an investigation is required”.

The party said that “all sums raised for independence campaigning will be spent on independence campaigning”.

– August 2021 – Party accounts acknowledge ‘concern’

As the party’s annual accounts were published, treasurer Mr Beattie acknowledged there had been “concern” about transparency over independence-related appeals that had raised more than £600,000.

In a section of the accounts, Mr Beattie discussed money raised by the referendum-related appeals since 2017.

He said that £666,953 had been raised up to the end of 2021, with a total of £51,760 expenditure applied to this income.

The money was “earmarked” through internal processes, he said, though the accounts did not officially record a separate sum.

– December 2022 – Loan to SNP emerges

In December, it emerged that Mr Murrell had loaned the party £100,000 in June 2021.

The party said this was to help with a “cash flow” issue after the election that year.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The resources that he lent the party were resources that belonged to him.”

– February 2023 – Nicola Sturgeon resigns

Nicola Sturgeon stunned the political world by suddenly announcing her resignation on February 15.

She said this was not in relation to short-term pressures but because she knew in her “head and heart” that the time was right to go.

During her Bute House press conference, she was asked if she expected to be interviewed in relation to the investigation. She said she did not.

– March 2023 – Peter Murrell resigns

Amid the SNP leadership contest to replace Ms Sturgeon, Mr Murrell announced he was stepping down from the role he had held for more than 20 years.

It came during a row over the party’s membership numbers, which also led to media chief Murray Foote stepping down.

Membership numbers had dropped by about 30,000 in the last year, something the party previously denied.

– April 2023 – Murrell arrested as police search premises

Mr Murrell was arrested on the morning of Wednesday April 5.

There was a large police presence around his home in Glasgow as well as the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh.

He was released without charge, pending further investigation, the same day.

– April 2023 – Camper van seized

On April 9, a luxury camper van was seized by police investigating the party’s finances, thought to be worth about £110,000.

– April 2023 – Treasurer arrested

On April 18, party treasurer Mr Beattie was arrested and interviewed by police.

His role is to oversee the party’s finances.

– April 2023 – SNP appoints new treasurer

Stuart McDonald MP was appointed as the SNP’s new treasurer on April 22 after Mr Beattie stood down with “immediate effect” following his arrest.

The 44-year-old, who represents Cumbernauld, Kirkintilloch and Kilsyth, admitted it would be a “difficult and challenging time” for the party.

– May 2023 – SNP appoints new auditors

The party appointed the AMS Accountant Group on May 3 2023, after their previous auditors Johnston Carmichael stood down in September 2022.

The party was subsequently able to file accounts prior to a crucial deadline which may have seen the Westminster group miss out on £1.2 million worth of funding.

– June 2023 – Nicola Sturgeon arrested

Former first minister and SNP leader Ms Sturgeon was arrested on June 11.

She “voluntarily” arranged with Police Scotland to be questioned as part of the investigation into the party’s finances, a spokesperson said.

Like the other party figures, she was released without charge pending further investigation.

Upon returning to Holyrood, she said: “The thing that sustains me right now is the certainty that I have done nothing wrong.”

– July 2023 – Sir Iain Livingstone says probe has ‘moved beyond’ initial reports

Police Scotland’s chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone gave an interview shortly before he was to step down from his role.

He confirmed the police investigation, known as Operation Branchform, had “moved beyond what some of the initial reports were”, saying this is not uncommon in financial inquiries.

The chief constable said he would not put an “absolute timeframe” on the length of the investigation but that it would be “proportionate and timeous”.

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