“It is incredibly difficult, but that is not the main issue here,” Scotland’s former first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, told reporters this afternoon, when grilled about allegations that her husband embezzled funds from the SNP.

“I can’t say any more, I’m not going to say any more,” she added, as she left the home they share together in Glasgow. 

Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s spouse who also worked as the SNP’s chief executive for more than two decades, was charged yesterday in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the Scottish National Party, following a Police Scotland investigation. 

Murrell was taken into custody at 09:13 on Thursday for questioning. He was later charged at 18:35 for involvement in the alleged fundraising fraud case, known as Operation Branchform.  

A Police Scotland statement said: “A 59-year-old man has today, Thursday 18 April 2024, been charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the Scottish National party. The man… had previously been arrested as a suspect on 5 April 2023, was charged after further questioning by Police Scotland detectives investigating the funding and finances of the party.”

Scotland’s current first minister, Humza Yousaf, described the latest development in the police investigation today as “a really serious and concerning matter”.

Speaking to the media from Bute House, Yousaf confirmed that Murrell had resigned his membership of the SNP. “All of those people who have known Peter Murrell for a number of years within the SNP and indeed across Scottish politics will be shocked,” he added.

When Murrell was previously arrested for questioning in April of last year, he was interviewed under caution for nearly 12 hours at his home in Uddingston, near Glasgow. However, he was released later that day pending further investigation. Nicola Sturgeon was also arrested and subsequently released without charge. 

Suspicions about the SNP’s finances were first raised in October 2020, when the pro-independence blogger Stuart Campbell posted an article entitled “You’ve Been Robbed” on his Wings Over Scotland political website. In this article, he pointed out that the SNP’s 2019 accounts showed it only had £97,000. Meanwhile, its total net asset was £272,000. He then encouraged donors to ask the SNP what had happened to their donations. 

Then, in March 2021, three SNP officials resigned from their party’s finance and audit committee after being denied the ability to look at accounts. A few days after this, Police Scotland received its first complaint about the SNP’s finances, subsequently followed by several other complaints. 

On 29 May 2021, MP Douglas Chapman resigned as SNP national treasurer, claiming he had not “received the support of financial information required to carry out the fiduciary duties”. 

This was followed by the resignation of SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who stated she was concerned about “transparency” within the party’s finances. 

The following month, Peter Murrell who was the SNP chief executive, provided a £107,000 loan to assist the party with cashflow problems. A formal investigation was launched in July 2021. 

In February 2023, police interviewed key witnesses as part of Operation Branchform. Days later, on 15 February 2023, Sturgeon unexpectedly resigned as SNP leader. 

Police confiscated a luxury motorhome parked outside the home of Murrell’s 92-year-old mother. Reports stated that it had been there since 2021 and was purchased as an election campaign bus but never used. 

Speaking about Murrell’s embezzlement charge, the Scottish Conservative’s chair, Craig Hoy, said: “The investigation, which has been going on for three years, appears to be reaching a conclusion and the SNP must commit to being fully open and transparent in this critical phase.”

The investigation will be dealt with by the police and senior professional prosecutors, without the involvement of the Lord Advocate or Solicitor General, both of which are political appointments. This is standard practice in cases involving politicians to avoid political motives affecting the investigation. 

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