Sunday Herald

October 4, 2009 Sunday

Final Edition

Trump 'threatened to sue' over refusal to back golf resort;

Tycoon accused of 'strong-arm' tactics against council



LENGTH: 686 words


THE American billionaire tycoon Donald Trump threatened to sue Aberdeenshire Council for failing to back his luxury golf resort, the Sunday Herald can reveal. Private correspondence released under freedom of information legislation shows that Trump's lawyers accused the council of a "flawed decision-making process" after it rejected the controversial development at the Menie Estate near Balmedie in 2007.

The revelation has prompted accusations from critics that Trump used "strong-arm tactics" to subject the council to a "vicious corporate mugging". And, they say, it helps explain the embarrassing mess the council got into last week over whether or not to sanction the removal of homeowners to make way for the development.

Just before a council meeting on Thursday, Aberdeenshire's controlling LibDem/Conservative coalition abandoned a widely trailed plan to rule out the compulsory purchase of properties for Trump. Instead, to the fury of many councillors and anti-Trump protesters, they agreed a motion to take no action.

The last-minute change of heart was said to have been prompted by legal advice. But it has left some councillors questioning the tactics of the council's LibDem leader, Anne Roberston.

The internal correspondence, which was released to the public relations watchdog Spinwatch consists of three letters from Trump's lawyer, Ann Faulds of Dundas &Wilson, to the chief executive of Aberdeenshire Council, Alan Campbell. The letters are in response to the decision by the council's infrastructure committee on November 29, 2007, to refuse Trump planning permission.

In the first letter, dated November 30, 2007, Faulds urged the council to reconsider its decision, arguing that the public opposition it had generated was a "new material consideration". In the second, on December 3, 2007, she said failure to reconsider the application would "result in a flawed decision-making process".

"I must advise you that my client will take all necessary steps to ensure that the council's decision-making process is intra vires [within its powers], reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances," Faulds wrote.

In the third letter, also dated December 3, 2007, Faulds said she had been instructed by the Trump organisation to undertake a "legal audit" of the council's decision-making process. She asked to see seven sets of documents on the council's structure, committees and standing orders "as a matter of urgency".

According to Aberdeenshire Council, there was "no record of any acknowledgement or reply to any of these letters". In any case, the council's response became irrelevant when, on December 4, 2007, the Scottish government called in the Trump application, leading to its eventual approval.

David Miller, from Spinwatch, accused the Trump organisation of attempting to undermine the democratic decisionmaking process. He urged the council to tell Trump, who stars in the US version of The Apprentice, that he's fired.

"Behind-the-scenes lobbying and strong-arm tactics may be the way politics is played in the US, but it should have no place in Scotland," Miller said.

Martin Ford, one of the Aberdeenshire councillors who voted against Trump's development and then resigned from the LibDem group, said the council had been subjected to "a vicious corporate mugging by the Trump organisation".

He added: "This was way beyond what most members of the council had ever experienced before. It traumatised the council and it has not recovered since."

Ford claimed the 11th-hour confusion over the council's position on compulsory purchase last week had prompted a lot of criticism of the LibDem leadership. His motion aiming to rule out compulsory purchase was voted down, despite the fact the vast majority of councillors opposed compulsory purchase.

A spokeswoman for Aberdeenshire Council could not comment on last week's motions and amendments, but insisted there had been no communications with the Trump organisation about them.

Dundas & Wilson referred questions to the Trump organisation which, when it was contacted late on Friday afternoon, said it had not been given enough time to respond.