Lord Advocate Facing Questions Over MP Lawyer

The Lord Advocate will answer questions at Holyrood over when prosecutors first became aware of allegations involving a lawyer who managed property deals linked to an SNP MP.

Labour's public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie lodged a topical question asking when the Crown Office "was first notified of allegations of mortgage fraud against Christopher Hales'', the lawyer who acted for property dealer Michelle Thomson before she was elected an SNP MP.

Ms Thomson has denied any wrongdoing and withdrawn herself from the party whip, a move which also means her membership of the SNP is suspended.

Last week, the Law Society said its director of financial compliance Ian Messer "informally'' raised concerns about the Hales case 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. It then took prosecutors just six days to launch a criminal investigation.

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

She said Mr Messer would have seen Ms Thomson's name in the unredacted Hales report 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 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 Hales until she read about it in media reports.

A Crown Office spokesman said yesterday that the Lord Advocate is "always happy'' to answer questions in Parliament and will do so today.

Ms Baillie welcomed the decision of Holyrood's presiding officer to select her question and said Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC can "bring some more transparency to a case which currently has more questions than answers''.

Ms Thomson is linked to 13 transactions Hales conducted in 2010-11 where properties were bought cheaply from clients looking for a quick sale and sold at a huge mark-up the same day and where complicated "cashback'' deals were used to artificially inflate property prices to secure bigger loans from lenders.

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