Police Scotland have confirmed officers are still investigating allegations of fraud involving more than £295,000 of taxpayers’ money which was handed over to the publisher of a speech book by Nicola Sturgeon.
A criminal complaint has been lodged over the allocation of cash by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to Inverness-based Sandstone Press.
Edited by Robert Davidson, it published Women Hold Up Half the Sky: Selected Speeches of Nicola Sturgeon. But concerns have been raised about Sandstone Press after it was revealed it had received £120,000 in the 12 months before the book was published.
Keith Charters, managing director of book company Strident Publishing, complained to police, alleging Sandstone had wrongly received the grant.
The Sunday Mail reported last year that police were also investigating £175,000 in loans agreed with the company in 2019, all of which were allegedly taken.
Over the past 15 years, Sandstone has benefited from over £500,000 of public money, when grants from Creative Scotland are also taken into account.
Charters accused the publisher of misrepresenting the number of people they employed, while HIE allegedly misrecorded the location of the business, which increased its eligibility for financial support.
Speaking to the Sunday Mail, Charters said: “To date over £500,000 of public money has been used to support Sandstone Press.
“This includes the £120,000 he received in the 10 months before it was announced that a book of speeches by Nicola Sturgeon would be published the week of the Scottish Parliament election.
“It is deeply concerning that when we exposed the way HIE provided Sandstone with this £120,000, the response from its officials was to vilify us for daring to challenge on the basis of the evidence.
“This evidence not only indicated that Sandstone had claimed employees it did not have and a non-executive director it did not have, but that HIE had scored an application from the Inverness-based company as if it did not. was not located in Inverness.
“In fact, his offices were less than half a mile from HIE’s head office in Inverness.”
Strident Publishing recently posted new information on Twitter, claiming that Kate Forbes and Fergus Ewing were also made aware of “alleged wrongdoing” in the Sandstone case, but did nothing.
He asked Audit Scotland to investigate the funding.
Sturgeon’s book was published four days after Holyrood’s election in May 2021.
A Scottish government spokeswoman declined to comment on the police investigation.
When approached by the Daily Record last year when the news originally broke, Sandstone Press said: ‘We have not been contacted by Police Scotland, all funds received from HIE have been subject to due process.”
HIE, meanwhile, said it would vigorously defend any allegations, adding: ‘We have not been contacted by Police Scotland regarding any issues relating to Sandstone Press.
“An application for judicial review has been filed with the Court of Session and HIE intends to vigorously defend it.”
A Police Scotland spokeswoman told the Scottish Daily Express: ‘Information has been passed to police and is currently being assessed.
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