Ex-Scottish leader Sturgeon's husband charged with embezzling party funds

By Sachin Ravikumar

LONDON (Reuters) -Former Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell has been charged with embezzlement of funds from her pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), media reported on Thursday.

The development will put the SNP, which has dominated Scottish politics for most of the last two decades, under fresh scrutiny ahead of a UK national election expected later this year.

Both Sturgeon and Murrell, formerly the SNP's chief executive, had been arrested and released without charge on separate occasions last year as part of an investigation into the party's finances.

Murrell was re-arrested on Thursday and questioned as part of the same probe, the BBC and other media reported.

"A 59-year-old man has today ... been charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the Scottish National Party," Police Scotland said in a statement without naming Murrell. He is no longer in custody.

Police have been investigating what happened to more than 600,000 pounds ($754,140) in funding raised by Scottish independence campaigners in 2017 which was supposed to have been ring-fenced, but may have been used for other purposes.

At the time of Murrell's arrest in April last year, police carried out a lengthy search of the couple's home in Glasgow, which was sealed off with blue and white police tape.

Sturgeon, who served as Scotland's first minister from 2014 until February last year, has denied any wrongdoing and not commented on her husband.

Sturgeon resigned last year in a shock move, saying she had become too divisive to lead her country to independence.

Support for the SNP has dropped, and a poll this month put Britain's main opposition Labour Party ahead of the SNP for the first time in Scotland since the 2014 independence referendum in which Scots voted by 55% to 45% to remain part of the UK.

Britain must hold a national election by January 2025.

The SNP said it would not be appropriate to comment on Murrell's arrest. A party spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reported embezzlement charge against him.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Rosalba O'Brien, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)