Scotland politics

'No need' for inquiry into handling of property deals case

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland Image copyright Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
Image caption Frank Mulholland outlined the timeline of the Crown Office action on the Christopher Hales case

The Lord Advocate has said he does not believe there should be an inquiry into the legal proceedings against a lawyer who was struck off over property deals involving MP Michelle Thomson.

Frank Mulholland was questioned by MSPs about when the Crown Office was first notified of allegations of mortgage fraud against Christopher Hales.

Mr Hales acted for Ms Thomson before she was elected as an SNP MP.

Ms Thomson has surrendered the SNP party whip.

She has also stood down as the party's business spokeswoman at Westminster until the investigation into Mr Hales has concluded.

In the Scottish Parliament, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie asked Mr Mulholland about the timeline in the case.

When was the Crown Office first notified of the allegations of mortgage fraud against solicitor Christopher Hales?

The Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland explained the timeline....

  • 18 December, 2014 - The issue of solicitor Christopher Hales was raised "informally" with the Crown Office. Neither the clients nor properties were named.
  • 28 April, 2015 - The issue was raised again and it was noted that the matter of referral to the Crown Office was still under consideration by the Law Society. Neither the clients nor properties were named.
  • 1 July, 2015 - The Crown was advised by the Law Society that it was required to obtain authorisation from its Guarantee Fund Sub Committee to formally refer the case.
  • 3 July, 2015 - Referral was received by the Crown following the required authorisation. Documents were handed over to the Crown Office and in those documents the names of clients and properties were disclosed.
  • 9 July, 2015 - A formal referral was made to the Crown Office and instructions were issued to Police Scotland.

Mr Mulholland said: "As the Crown has made clear on a number of occasions, the case of Christopher Hales was first brought to its attention by the Law Society of Scotland at a meeting on 18 December, 2014."

Ms Baillie asked if Mr Mulholland believed there should be an investigation into the processing of information between the Law Society and the Crown Office.

Image copyright Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
Image caption Labour's Jackie Baillie questioned the Lord Advocate

She asked if he would order such an inquiry, given that there may have been "additional opportunities for alleged mortgage fraud" due to the delay.

Mr Mulholland responded: "I don't have the power to order an inquiry, and I don't think there should be an inquiry."

He said Police Scotland were instructed to investigate the allegations on 3 July 2015 and formally issued officers to do so on 9 July.

He said the issue was raised at routine quarterly meetings between the Law Society and the Crown Office.

Mr Mullholland said the Crown Office was first made aware on 18 December 2014 that the case was under consideration for referral. The issue was raised again on 28 April.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Thomson denies acting illegally

Mr Mulholland added: "The first time the Crown was made aware of the identity of the clients and the properties, was the 3rd of July."

Last week, the Law Society said its director of financial compliance Ian Messer "informally" raised concerns about the case of Mr Hales during two separate meetings with prosecutors in December 2014 and April 2015.

However, the Law Society did not "formally" submit its evidence to the Crown until July 2015, two months after Ms Thomson was elected SNP MP for Edinburgh West.

Unredacted report

Law Society chief executive Lorna Jack gave an "absolute and categorical assurance" last week that the election played no part in the timings of the case.

She said Mr Messer would have seen Ms Thomson's name in the unredacted report into Mr Hales but may not have been aware she was a Westminster candidate.

The secretary to the Law Society committee that struck Mr Hales off, Sheila Kirkwood, is said to be a personal acquaintance of Ms Thomson with close links to the SNP.

Ms Jack has pledged to look more deeply into Ms Kirkwood's links with Ms Thomson, but said she has received an assurance the secretary was unaware of the MP's links to Mr Hales until she read about it in media reports.

Ms Thomson is linked to 13 transactions Mr Hales conducted in 2010-11 where properties were said to have been bought cheaply from clients looking for a quick sale and then sold at a huge mark-up on the same day.

Complicated "cashback" deals were said to have been used to artificially inflate property prices in order to secure bigger loans from lenders.

Ms Thomson has denied acting illegally.

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