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EMBATTLED David Mundell has trousered almost £40,000 in donations from a Singapore-based businessman who hailed the last recession as a “massive wealth-building opportunity in disguise,” the Morning Star can reveal.
The Tory Scotland Secretary is facing questions after he provided property magnate Brian Gillies with a business reference which praised his “integrity and personal probity.”
Three companies linked to Mr Gillies, a wealthy Scot who relocated to the Far East, have donated £38,500 to Mr Mundell’s office and local Conservative association since 2011.
In an interview with the Scotsman’s business section in 2009, Mr Gillies said: “A recession is a massive wealth-building opportunity in disguise.
“What you can do now is take advantage of a market where you can buy the properties you want to buy and you can buy them very cheaply.”
Labour shadow Scotland secretary Lesley Laird branded Mr Gillies’s comments “absolutely sickening.”
In a reference published on business website GlobalEye, Mr Mundell said: “I have known [Mr Gillies] personally for three years and I have found him to be a person of the highest integrity and personal probity.”
Mr Mundell said Mr Gillies had “a significant involvement with the Conservative Party.” He said the tycoon, whose companies have also given £85,500 to the Tories’ central coffers, “provided valuable input ... at the highest level.” Mr Gillies has also “taken a direct interest in campaigning and candidate development at local level,” the Scotland Secretary added.
Wealthy donors who live abroad can get around political funding laws by channelling funds through their companies based in Britain.
Mr Gillies’s latest firm, Kirklee Property Company (2) Ltd, has given £27,500 to Mr Mundell’s office since 2016. Earlier donations were made through his now defunct companies Alchemist Estates Ltd and Stridewell Estates Ltd.
His donations to Mr Mundell and Tory organisations since 2011 add up to a whopping £144,000.
In his 2009 interview, Mr Gillies went on to say: “If you are profiting from the mistakes of other people, it’s people who didn't do their job right in the first place. If they had actually looked at the economic fundamentals and studied the trends, they wouldn’t be exposing themselves.
“They were reckless with the amount of the debt they took on. They've got themselves in the problem.”
The Scotland Secretary has already faced calls to resign this week after the revelation that Scottish fisheries would be opened to European competition after Brexit. SNP Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing described the debacle as “the biggest sell-out in Scottish political history.”
The Star asked Mr Mundell if he wished to distance himself from Mr Gillies’s comments. His spokesman replied: “The Secretary of State is committed to forging a strong economy that works for everyone in Scotland.
“That's why he signed off a £150m UK government investment in the Tayside region on Thursday and why he is supporting a Brexit deal that will protect jobs and help business.”
But Ms Laird, who is Mr Mundell’s opposite number at Westminster, told the Star: “It will be very hard for David Mundell to disassociate himself from this man, having taken thousands and thousands of pounds from him in donations.”
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