Police are investigating allegations of fraud involving more than £ 295,000 of taxpayer money donated to the publisher of a book of speeches by Nicola Sturgeon.
Officers from the Financial Crimes Unit are investigating claims rules that were broken when Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) provided grants and loans to Sandstone Press of Inverness.
The company – led by ardent nationalist and SNP supporter Robert Davidson – received £ 120,000 in the 12 months leading up to the publication of Women Hold Up Half the Sky: Selected Speeches of Nicola Sturgeon.
The book – with a foreword by detective writer Val McDermid – was promoted ahead of the Holyrood election in May and published four days later.
We can reveal that Keith Charters, managing director of the book company Strident Publishing, wrote to Sturgeon warning him of concerns about Sandstone.
His subsequent police complaint, which is now under investigation, involves allegations of wrongdoing directed against both the publisher and HIE.
In addition to the £ 120,000 in grants awarded last year, police are investigating £ 175,000 in loans agreed with the company in 2019, all of which were said to have been taken.
Over the past 15 years, Sandstone has benefited from over £ 500,000 in public money when grants from Creative Scotland are also factored in.
The publisher was accused of making false statements about the number of people employed, while HIE allegedly wrongly recorded the company’s location, which increased its eligibility for financial support.
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It is alleged that HIE gave the company a funding rating which suggests it was based outside Inverness, thus increasing its eligibility for support.
Charters said: “To date over £ 500,000 of public money has been used to support Sandstone Press.
“This includes the £ 120,000 he received in the 10 months leading up to the announcement of the publication of a book of speeches by Nicola Sturgeon in Scottish Parliament Election Week.
“It is deeply concerning that when we exposed how HIE provided Sandstone with that £ 120,000 – when we provided the Prime Minister with detailed evidence of alleged wrongdoing – the response from his officials was to vilify us for having dared to challenge the basis of the evidence.
‘This evidence not only indicated that Sandstone had claimed employees it did not have and a non-executive director that it did not have, but that HIE had noted a candidacy from the Inverness-based company as if it did not. was not located in Inverness.
“In fact, its offices were less than a mile from HIE’s headquarters in Inverness.”
Charters also appealed for judicial review of part of the cash grant awarded by HIE.
Scottish Conservative culture spokesman Donald Cameron said: “There are serious questions the SNP government must answer.
“The SNP government was made aware of concerns about this large amount of public money just before the start of the election period.
“They need to be completely transparent about the checks being carried out at that time and why they thought it was still appropriate to give public money to the company which then published Nicola Sturgeon’s book of speeches. . “
The book includes a collection of the Prime Minister’s speeches delivered between November 2014 and February 2020 and is edited by the boss of Sandstone Davidson.
In a 2019 newspaper article he said: ‘I find myself more in tune with the current Scottish government than anything I have known in my life. I aspire to be a citizen of an independent Scotland.
A Scottish government spokeswoman declined to comment on the police investigation.
She said: “Given that there is a complaint against the police, it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to comment.”
The book’s synopsis says it focuses on the importance of ‘good government and Scotland’s place in the world’.
He adds, “Taken together, they show a side of Nicola Sturgeon that is too often missed in public discourse.
“Thoughtful, progressive, compassionate and passionate about the cause of Scottish independence, she is as pragmatic on issues of economic strategy as she is progressive on social issues.”
Editor’s notes claim that the book is published and funded independently of any public body, with no funding received for the book.
Sandstone Press said: ‘We have not been contacted by the Scottish Police. All funds received from HIE have been subject to due process.
HIE, meanwhile, said he would strongly defend any allegation, adding: “We have not been contacted by Police Scotland regarding the issues regarding Sandstone Press.
“A request to initiate judicial review proceedings has been filed with the Sessional Court and HIE intends to vigorously defend it. “
HIE boss Charlotte Wright revealed in May that she was leaving the organization.
The Sunday Mail understands that Scottish Police officers questioned Charters this summer to make a full statement and that he has since been contacted by the Dundee-based Financial Crimes Unit.
Police said: “Information has been passed on to the police who are being assessed.”
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) ‘comfortable’ with fund approvals
HIE is a government body responsible for providing grants and loans totaling £ 75million per year to businesses with the aim of creating jobs.
A government response to Charters’ letter said, “Highlands and Islands Enterprise are confident that their funding approvals are in compliance.
The SNP faces an investigation for fraud in the internal finances of its party.
We said in April that the police were investigating allegations of £ 600,000 raised to prepare for an independence referendum which had allegedly been misused for other purposes.
Three members of the party’s finance and audit committee resigned in March after FM’s husband and party CEO Peter Murrell refused to show them accounts.
Two weeks later, the cops confirmed they had received an allegation of fraud and an investigation is underway.
The fallout focuses on funds raised in 2017 and 2019 which, according to the SNP, would be “reserved” for a referendum campaign.
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