Conservatives in the north-east accepted a £20,000 donation from a company linked to one of the largest “black fish” scams in Europe, we can reveal.
Official documents show that the cash was handed over to the party’s Aberdeenshire branch on April 6 – one month before the Scottish Parliament election.
It was donated by the Fraserburgh-based Unity Fishing Company Ltd, which is owned and run by four brothers.
The eldest, Stephen Bellany, was fined £35,000 in 2012 for his involvement in a wider £23million scam to evade fishing quotas.
At the time, 10 skippers were ordered to pay a total of almost £1.2m after admitting their involvement in the so-called “black fish” operation between 2002 and 2005.
The fines, and others, followed a seven-year investigation known as Operation Trawler, launched to investigate illegal landing of fish within the pelagic fleet.
‘Episode of shame’
The group of 10 had pled guilty to the illegal landing of undeclared catches at two processors, Fresh Catch and Alexander Buchan.
The High Court in Edinburgh heard that “incredibly complex and devious methods” had been used to under-declare fish landings.
Secret underground pipes and hidden switches were used to illegally land herring and mackerel worth millions of pounds.
Lord Turnbull said: “The extent to which the landings of fish were deliberately under declared at times was truly staggering. The result was an episode of shame.”
According to data published by the Electoral Commission, the £20,000 donation was made in cash on April 1 and was accepted on April 6, before being reported on July 28.
On Monday, a spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “All donations made to the local party are received in accordance with UK law and registered with the Electoral Commission.”
All donations made to the local party are received in accordance with UK law and registered with the Electoral Commission.”
At recent Westminster and Holyrood elections, the Scottish Tories and the SNP have been locked in a tight two-way battle in many of the constituencies across the north-east.
In May, Karen Adam won the Banffshire and Buchan Coast seat for the SNP with a majority of just 772 over Tory candidate Mark Findlater.
She succeeded former minister Stewart Stevenson as the MSP for the seat, which includes the key fishing ports of Fraserburgh and Peterhead.
Unity Fishing has quotas for North Sea and west coast herring, and mackerel from the western part of the north east Atlantic, and usually lands at Peterhead, according to its website.
We attempted to contact the company on Monday.
In the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, William Tait Senior, a director of Klondyke Fishing Company Ltd, made two donations to the Yes campaign, worth £150,000.
It was reported at the time that four other members of his family had previously admitted illegally landing herring and mackerel, as part of the black fish scam.