Nicola Sturgeon has said she is “innocent of any wrongdoing” following her arrest by police investigating allegations of financial misconduct at the Scottish National Party.
The former first minister was held in custody and questioned “as a suspect” by detectives looking into claims that £600,000 in donations for an independence campaign was misspent by the party. She was later released without charge pending further investigation.
Following her release, she released a defiant statement protesting her innocence in “the strongest possible terms”. Ms Sturgeon said that the arrest was “both a shock and deeply distressing”.
She continued: “Innocence is not just a presumption I am entitled to in law. I know beyond doubt that I am in fact innocent of any wrongdoing.” She thanked her “close circle of family and friends who are giving me much-needed strength at this time”.
Ms Sturgeon, who stepped down in February after eight years leading the Scottish government, is the third high-profile SNP figure to be arrested as part of Operation Branchform, the Police Scotland name for the investigation into Scotland’s governing party.
Ms Sturgeon’s detention comes after her husband Peter Murrell was arrested at the home they share in Uddingston near Glasgow on 5 April. He was interviewed under caution for nearly 12 hours before he too was released without charge.
Colin Beattie, an MSP who was then the party’s treasurer, was also arrested and questioned as part of the same investigation on 18 April. He was also released later without charge, pending further investigation.
Opposition parties seized on the news. The Scottish Conservatives urged SNP first minister Humza Yousaf to suspend Ms Sturgeon from the party, while Labour branded the arrest “deeply concerning”.
Just hours before Ms Sturgeon’s arrest, Scotland’s first minister Mr Yousaf had told the BBC she was “in a good place and doing well”, adding he welcomed advice from “one of the best politicians, the most impressive politicians, Europe has seen over the last couple of decades”.
A spokesperson for Ms Sturgeon confirmed she was cooperating with the investigation and said: “Nicola Sturgeon has today, Sunday 11 June, by arrangement with Police Scotland, attended an interview where she was to be arrested and questioned in relation to Operation Branchform.
“Nicola has consistently said she would cooperate with the investigation if asked and continues to do so.”
Ms Sturgeon announced she was planning to step down as first minister on 15 February, saying that “in my head and in my heart” she knew it was the right time.
She said the decision “may seem sudden” but that it was based on “a deeper and longer-term assessment”.
A spokesperson for the SNP said: “These issues are subject to a live police investigation. The SNP have been co-operating fully with this investigation and will continue to do so, however it is not appropriate to publicly address any issues while that investigation is ongoing.”
A statement issued by Police Scotland issued on Sunday afternoon said: “A 52-year-old woman has today, Sunday 11 June 2023, been arrested as a suspect in connection with the ongoing investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party.
“The woman is in custody and is being questioned by Police Scotland detectives. A report will be sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
“The matter is active for the purposes of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and the public are therefore advised to exercise caution if discussing it on social media. As the investigation is ongoing we are unable to comment further.”
Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, Ian Murray, said the arrest was “a deeply concerning development”, adding that “for too long, a culture of secrecy and cover-up has been allowed to fester at the heart of the SNP”.
Mr Murray, whose party is hoping to make gains at the general election off the back of a narrowing poll lead, added: “The same culture that leads to police tents in front gardens created the deeply dysfunctional government that is currently failing Scots. Humza Yousaf must urgently come clean on what he knows – the people of Scotland deserve answers.”
Scottish Conservative chair Craig Hoy said: “Nicola Sturgeon and other senior SNP figures – including Humza Yousaf – must cooperate fully with this police investigation and commit to full transparency surrounding it.
“The SNP continue to be engulfed in murkiness and chaos. Humza Yousaf must now show some leadership and suspend his predecessor from the SNP.
“The SNP set that precedent when politicians such as Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry were under investigation and must do so again here.
“This extremely serious matter is continuing to escalate and the result is that the SNP are totally distracted at the worst possible time. This is the time they should be focused on the real priorities facing the people of Scotland, such as the cost of living crisis, fixing our NHS and strengthening our economy.”
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