Scotland’s Health Secretary is to be a key witness in the trial of a former SNP MP accused of embezzling more than £25,000 from two pro-independence groups, a court has heard.
Ex-MP Natalie McGarry did not appear at the hearing at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Wednesday, but her lawyer entered not guilty pleas on her behalf to the two embezzlement charges she faces.
Allan Macleod, representing McGarry, told the court that Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is a “very important” witness in the case.
McGarry, 39, is accused of appropriating £21,000 for her own use in her role as treasurer of the Women for Independence group between April 26, 2013 and November 30, 2015.
She is accused of failing to transfer charitable donations raised by the group to Perth and Kinross Foodbank and to Positive Prisons, Positive Futures.
It is alleged she transferred funds raised through events on behalf of Women for Independence into her own personal bank account and used cheques drawn on the organisation’s bank account to deposit money in her own accounts.
McGarry is also accused of embezzling £4,661.02 for her own use from the Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP between April 9, 2014 and August 10, 2015.
It is alleged that in the course of her roles as treasurer, secretary and convener of the association, she used cheques drawn on bank accounts held in its name to pay expenses it had not incurred and retained reimbursements to which she was not entitled.
The indictment also alleges she used cheques drawn on bank accounts held in the association’s name to deposit money in her own personal bank accounts, and transferred funds donated to the association through its website into her own accounts.
Mr Macleod said: “Jeane Freeman is a very important witness in this case. Perhaps the most important witness for the prosecution.”
He raised concerns that the trial, estimated to last six weeks, is due to take place from May 4, days before the Holyrood election, at which Ms Freeman has said she will stand down from Parliament.
Sheriff Andrew Cubie said: “It’s important that this trial is not derailed. I’m confident that any particular responsibilities that witnesses have – given the length of time the trial is down for – can be accommodated.”
McGarry was elected as an SNP member in 2015 but resigned the party whip after the emergence of fraud allegations – which she denied.
She continued in Parliament as an independent MP representing Glasgow East but did not seek re-election in 2017.