THE Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) knew of allegations against the lawyer at the heart of the criminal investigation into property deals linked to MP Michelle Thomson four years ago, the Law Society of Scotland has confirmed.
Mrs Thomson has been forced to withdraw from the SNP party whip amid questions over the legality and morality of her business dealings involving the solicitor, Christopher Hales, who has since been struck off.
The Law Society is confirming that it submitted a report on Christopher Hales to Soca in 2011Law Society statement issued yesterday
However, the Law Society, the professional body for Scotland’s solicitors, last night confirmed it informed Soca, now the National Crime Agency (NCA), about the allegations after Hales was found guilty of professional misconduct in 2014.
The society said it submitted a suspicious activity report (SAR) on Hales to the agency in October 2011, following an inspection of Hales’ firm which resulted in him being suspended, prosecuted by a discipline tribunal and subsequently struck off as a solicitor in 2014.
Hales was disciplined for the role he played in 13 transactions relating to M&F Property Solutions, which had Edinburgh West MP Mrs Thomson as a partner.
Mrs Thomson’s property deals involved the “back to back” buying and selling of houses owned by vulnerable people. They were bought at below full-market value and then resold at far higher prices, often on the same day.
MSPs last night said Soca’s knowledge of the case as far back as 2011 was an “astonishing development” and demanded to know what “has been happening for the last four years?”
Mrs Thomson, who has now stepped down as the SNP’s business spokeswoman at Westminster, has always maintained she acted within the law.
The MP refused to comment on the controversy surrounding her as she arrived to host her constituency surgery in Edinburgh yesterday.
When asked if she had anything to say about the row over her business dealings, she said “I’ve got a surgery to run.”
The Crown Office has ordered Police Scotland to launch a criminal investigation into alleged irregularities relating to property deals linked to Mrs Thomson. However, Scottish ministers have been under pressure to state when the Crown Office first became aware of the allegations against Hales.
The Law Society of Scotland has also faced calls from opposition MSPs to publish all documents it has on its investigation into property deals linked to Mrs Thomson.
But the society refused to publish all of the files, a demand backed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, stating that such a move “could jeopardise the ongoing police investigation”.
The professional body also said it had passed on its disciplinary report about Hales to Soca, which had a remit in Scotland. Last night, in a statement, it said: “The Law Society is confirming today that it submitted a report on Christopher Hales to the Serious & Organised Crime Agency (now the National Crime Agency) in 2011.
“The Law Society has a legal duty to report suspicious activity and submitted a ‘Suspicious Activity Report’ to Soca in October 2011.
“This was following the original Law Society inspection of the firm which resulted in Christopher Hales being suspended, prosecuted before the independent Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and struck off as a solicitor in 2014.”
The Law Society has been caught up in controversy after it emerged that it took more than a year to formally report its concerns about the deals to the Crown Office.
However, the society rejected calls from Ms Sturgeon and Labour for it to publish all papers relating to the matter.
It said: “It would be irresponsible to release all of the files on this case as has been suggested. Not only would publication of this kind go against our data protection obligations but it could jeopardise the ongoing police investigation and potentially prejudice any legal proceedings which followed.”
The National Crime Agency refused to comment, saying its investigations were “confidential”. Police Scotland said its investigation was ongoing and refused to comment.
Scottish Labour public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “We need full disclosure from all of the agencies and organisations involved.”
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said the case surrounding Mrs Thomson’s dealings – over which the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland told Holyrood every lead would be investigated – was “getting messier by the day”.
He said: “What has been happening for the last four years?”
A Crown Office spokesman said: “In line with the legislation and normal practice, this suspicious activity report was not submitted to the Crown”.