Police chief: SNP finance investigation probing 'potential embezzlement'

Iain Livingstone defended the amount of time spent on Operation Branchform.

SNP investigation has ‘moved beyond’ initial allegations, Police Scotland chief Iain Livingstone says Getty Images

The investigation into the finances and funding of the SNP has “moved beyond” the initial inquiries of alleged fraud, Police Scotland’s chief constable has said.

Iain Livingstone said Operation Branchform was a complex case which had grown since the probe was launched two years ago.

Since July 2021, police have been looking into whether £660,000 raised by the SNP for a second independence referendum was spent correctly.

Asked why the investigation is still ongoing after two years, Livingstone told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “Investigations into the finances of an organisation, finances into an individual, are often complex.

“Investigations around fraud or potential embezzlement or investigations around the misuse of funds take time.

“You need to go and obtain information from banks and other institutions.

“We can’t just do that automatically. We need to seek judicial warrants for that, there needs to be a process around that.”

Operation Branchform is looking into whether money raised by the SNP for campaigning for a second independence referendum was spent on other things.iStock

Livingstone, who is set to leave his post next month, said the time taken on the case was “absolutely necessary”.

There has been a prudent, thorough and proportionate investigation carried out,” he said.

“I’ve been aware of this investigation since the outset, there is a dedicated team involved in it and they’re working very closely with our prosecutors, the Crown Office in Scotland, in terms of the steps that are taken.

“What I would say had we not carried out the investigation in the manner we have, I would rightly have been accused of a significant dereliction of duty and that’s no the case.

“We have done the right thing and the rule of law in the interests of justice must prevail.”

Asked if the investigation had gotten bigger since the initial inquiry, Livingstone said: “It’s moved beyond what some of the initial reports were and that’s not uncommon in investigations like this.”

The investigation has so far led to the arrests of Nicola Sturgeon, her husband Peter Murrell and former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie. All were released without charge.

It also saw searches carried out the SNP’s HQ as well as Murrell – the SNP’s former chief executive – and Sturgeon’s home.

A luxury campervan, said to be worth around £110,000, was also taken by authorities from outside Murrell’s mother’s house.

Iain Livingstone defended the police's handling of the investigation.STV News

Police erected large tents outside the house as they continued their probe.

The Police Scotland chief said it was “absolutely proportionate” to put a tent around the former first minster’s home, “given the circumstances of that search, the search warrants that had been craved from the independent court, the judge that issued the search warrants to us”.

He added: “I know the full circumstances of the case. The tent was there as were all the other measures  to protect the interests of justice and to protect the individuals involved so it was a proportionate and necessary step.”

Livingstone said he could put “no timeframe” on when the investigation will come to an end.

An SNP spokesperson 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.”

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