SNP accused of double-dealing over links with Trump from Scotland on Sunday – An investigation into the commercial relationship between the Scottish Government-owned Prestwick Airport and Donald Trump, at the time of writing a Republican US presidential candidate
THE TROUBLED Prestwick Airport, owned by the Scottish Government, has been involved in negotiations with Donald Trump in an effort to return it to profit – at the same time as senior SNP figures have been calling for the US presidential candidate to be banned from the UK, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
The Scottish Government was last night accused of hypocrisy and urged to disclose the precise nature of its relationship with the controversial Republican frontrunner after a tranche of correspondence detailed Prestwick Airport’s extensive dealings with Trump.
Officials at the loss-making Glasgow Prestwick Airport and Trump’s executives have explored working together to “win” business and the “integration” of their operations.
The precise nature of Prestwick’s high-profile ties with the controversial US presidential candidate has long been unclear. It was described in a joint press release in November 2014 as an “official partnership” and a “strategic alliance.”
The airport now insists it has no “official partnership contract in place” with the magnate or his Turnberry resort and that he has merely offered a “show of support” for the beleaguered hub.
But a tranche of documents released to Scotland on Sunday show the airport has held unminuted discussions over “potential partnership opportunities” and disclosed business development targets with Trump Turnberry, which has not been required to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA).
The relationship was announced in grand style two years ago when Trump touched down at Prestwick in his Boeing 757 jet. The airport charges him undisclosed fees for fuelling, airside parking, landing charges and hangar space for the aircraft and his Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.
Although there have been no further public announcements, the correspondence – released under Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation – details extensive private discussions.
The airport said it “holds a presentation that was shared with Trump Turnberry in relation to business development targets.” However, it withheld it from the FoI release, claiming it would “prejudge our commercial interest”.
It added that “it has had dialogue from employees from Trump Turnberry resort to discuss potential partnership opportunities. There were no minutes taken of these discussions.”
In an email sent last March to Ralph Porciani, general manager at Trump Turnberry, Jules Matteoni, Prestwick’s manager of fire service, passenger services, transport and security, asked to meet Turnberry staff at “short notice” to “have a think about integration of your business and ours before the season starts”.
He referenced a meeting at Prestwick four days previously with Porciani, stating: “I trust you have confidence in the operation now.”
Last September, Matteoni wrote to Trump Turnberry’s sales director, Gillian McNeilly, concerning a commercial deal, details of which were redacted by Prestwick. He told her: “If we want to win this business then we should work together on pricing and have a package that is highly attractive.”
The airport was taken over by the government in 2003 for £1. It made losses of £4.1m last year, with loan financing from the government increasing from £4.5m in March 2014 to £10.8m 12 months later.
Former First Minister Alex Salmond and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP were among those SNP politicians to call on Trump to be banned from the UK over his contentious remarks about Muslims, while Nicola Sturgeon stripped him of his Global Scot status.
Alex Johnstone, infrastructure and transport spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “On the one hand SNP MPs want to ban Donald Trump from the UK, but on the other, the airport the Scottish Government owns appears to be going out its way to curry favour with him.
“It makes sense for an airport like Prestwick to work closely with local businesses like Turnberry. But the SNP has to stop being so hypocritical about the situation – it can’t have it both ways.”
He added: “People will find it very strange that Prestwick shares this information with Trump, while claiming there’s no official partnership in place. The Scottish Government should explain this arrangement as a matter of urgency.”
David Stewart, Scottish Labour’s transport spokesman, said: “The SNP clearly has some explaining to do here. Mr Trump has threatened to walk away from his businesses in Scotland yet Prestwick seems desperate to get together with Trump Turnberry. We need full disclosure of what is going on.”
Kirsten Sweeney, Prestwick’s communications manager, characterised the airport’s relationship with Turnberry as “long running” and one that would continue. Its link with Trump Turnberry, she said, was “mutually supportive”.
Asked why it had disclosed business development targets with Trump’s firm despite the fact there is “no legal contract between the two organisations,” she said: “When you enter into these discussions, there is an element of trust that has to be had between the organisations that are looking to build a partnership with each other. It’s the same process we have in many of our business development discussions with potential customers or partners.
“There would be a starting point where we’d share a certain level of information about how we’re looking to develop our business to find out if synergies are there, and if there are, then look at working together.”
“Trump Turnberry have not signed any NDA with us. We present some of our thoughts and analysis about potential customers as a matter of course when having these discussions, and we wouldn’t really get off on the best foot with an organisation if the first thing we did was ask them to sign an NDA before we had a conversation. They would come into play when we get down to actuals and figures.”
She added: “We have kept the Scottish Government across no more or no less any of these discussions than we would discussions with any other potential customer or partner, and no more or no less than any other organisation would do with its shareholders.”
George Sorial, executive vice president of the Trump Organisation, said its ties with Prestwick had “nothing to do with our relationship with the Scottish Government” and that it was “united” with Prestwick “in any efforts to restore the airport”.
Asked if an “official partnership” existed, as outlined in the joint press release, he explained: “I think people use the word partnership colloquially. It doesn’t necessarily connote a full-blown partnership in the sense of a legal business relationship, so I think as a matter of law, they are not our partner.”
On whether Trump’s companies would invest directly at Prestwick, he said although this wasn’t under consideration at present, “that’s not ruling out. If there was a proposal on the table that made sense, obviously we would evaluate it.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government agency, Transport Scotland, said: “Glasgow Prestwick Airport is being operated on a commercial basis and at arm’s length from the Scottish Government.
“The senior management team at the airport has been tasked with all aspects of taking the airport forward, including building on existing revenue streams and exploring new ones.”
WHEN the partnership was announced between Glasgow Prestwick Airport and the Trump Organisation, Trump vowed that it would help bolster the economic fortunes of the struggling airport with “hundreds” of private flights as well-heeled golfers jetted in to play the billionaire’s courses.
He said: “We are going to have planes coming in from New York and all over, high-level planes like Gulfstreams and Bombardiers.”
But an email from Iain Cochrane, Prestwick’s former CEO, indicates little has changed. In the message, sent last June to Gary Cox, head of aviation at Transport Scotland, about “recent Trump announcements”, he said: “We do not expect to see significant increases in associated corporate jet traffic until the hotel and course improvements are completed in spring 2016 when Trump will relaunch the resort with particular focus in the US.”
The emails, released under Freedom of Information legislation, also show that Cochrane and George Sorial, vice-president of the Trump Organisation, wrote separately to SNP MSP Chic Brodie, inviting him to support the relationship between the resort and the airport.
In his email to Brodie in August 2014, Cochrane said the airport was working with Trump’s team “to explore where their considerable influence may assist opportunities for mutual benefit” and suggested that he contribute to a press release announcing the tie-up.
He added: “It is important that we get as much good news and impact from the story even if at this stage the financial materiality is quite low.”
Other correspondence shows how executives at Prestwick have attended dinners as guests of Trump Turnberry, with airport officials requesting pictures of the course to “give some Turnberry flavour” to a meeting room named after Trump’s golf resort.
It also details how the airport and Trump’s firm have struck a deal for reduced accommodation rates at Trump Turnberry, despite the fact it is a 45-minute drive away.
In an email last June to Ralph Porciani, the resort’s general manager, and Gillian McNeilly, its sales director, Prestwick’s Jules Matteoni wrote: “Many thanks for taking the time to meet up yesterday to have a constructive discussion on pricing and secondly having the conviction to back up your proposal.
“As a list of hotels that we use for business, being honest, Turnberry was always last on the list based on price. Yesterday’s proposal places Turnberry in a favourable position and gives us food for thought in our placement of crews moving forward.”