Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP has today demanded a full apology from the Economy Secretary Keith Brown after the Scottish Government was “duped” in its controversial agreement with two Chinese firms.
Mr Rennie has written to the First Minister after reports this week discredited SinoFortone, revealing almost all its deals have either failed to progress or fell apart soon after they were agreed.
Their only successful investment was in a pub. It was reported that the company has not registered any accounts since it was established. Its website has been taken down and questions surround its apparent London headquarters which has no record of their existence.
Commenting, Mr Rennie said
“The SNP berated us for criticising them over this deal. However it turns out that our criticism was correct. The front man behind the deal revealed the company he was representing actually had no capital behind it. The SNP was well and truly duped by men with knighthoods and sharp suits who owned a pub.
“The reputation of Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown is in tatters and his accusations against us should be withdrawn and a full apology to parliament must be issued.”
Willie's full letter:
Dear First Minister
I am writing to you, once again, concerning the Memorandum of Understanding you signed last year with Sinofortone and China Railway No.3 Engineering Group. It is now clear that the Scottish Government has been duped and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Economy Secretary has been inept and naïve.
You will have seen in the Sunday Times that Sir Richard Heygate, who was with you when you signed, has said Sinofortone has no serious capital to invest in Scotland.
You signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Peter Zhang and Sir Richard Heygate in the grand setting of Bute House. This lent the Government’s credibility to those two individuals and the company they represented.
Keith Brown answered my 28 written questions in May by reporting that he and his officials had had eight meetings concerning Sinofortone. He said that they had been assessed as “serious and credible”.
Sir Richard Heygate has been graphic in his criticism of Sinofortone. The company does not have money to invest or a track record of investment in UK infrastructure.
This week’s revelations have opened a new chapter in this sorry saga.
Keith Brown cited the investment in Port Talbot as evidence that Sinofortone are “serious and credible” even though no such investment was made. In fact, no investment has been made in any of the projects that have received publicity except the purchase of a public house in England.
The Scottish Government is now sitting at the apex of a triangle of deception where one supposed deal by Sinofortone triggers eager signatories for the next.
I think it is time for you to draw a line under this.
You need to ask Keith Brown to apologise to Parliament for giving government credibility to such an organisation.
You need to revise the guidelines for the way in which your ministers assess if a potential investor is credible.
You need to confirm once and for all that you will shred the memorandum of understanding.
The value of the First Minister’s signature has been questioned, the credibility of the government challenged and the standing of the Economy Secretary diminished. It is therefore of the utmost importance that Scotland sees some clear and unequivocal steps from you.