SNP leader Humza Yousaf has revealed the firm dealing with his party’s accounts resigned about six months ago – and implied he was not previously aware.
He said Johnston Carmichael stopped doing the SNP’s accounting “round about October” of last year but he could not “comment on what was done prior to me becoming a leader of the SNP”.
The SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister did not say why they had quit then.
Mr Yousaf, who was in Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet, agreed it was “extraordinary” that the party had failed to appoint a new set of auditors since they had resigned.
His revelation came after it emerged last week Johnston Carmichael was no longer handling the SNP’s accounts.
Days before, former party chief executive and Ms Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell was arrested and questioned by police investigating the party’s finances.
Mr Murrell, who had been in the role for 25 years, quit during the contest to find Ms Sturgeon’s successor after she unexpectedly announced her resignation.
Last week he was questioned by Police Scotland as part of its investigation into where £600,000 of party donations earmarked for independence campaigning has gone.
Mr Murrell was released without charge “pending further investigation”, police said.
Mr Yousaf, who was only elected leader just over two weeks ago, said one of the party’s “major priorities” is appointing new auditors “quickly”.
But he said the SNP hopes to still have its accounts prepared in time to be submitted to watchdogs at the Electoral Commission in July, although that will be “problematic”, he admitted.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said it was “yet another massive understatement” from Mr Yousaf.
“The SNP have been without auditors for more than six months while the police investigate serious allegations about £600,000 of funds,” he said.
“The questions for Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf to answer are growing.”
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie said “the plot continues to thicken” and the fact the SNP “did not come clean about this for months stinks to high heavens”.
She added it was “deeply worrying” if they have not yet been able to replace their auditors and it is “time for the secrecy to end”.
SNP will not pay Peter Murrell’s legal fees
The first minister refused to agree to suspend Mr Murrell from the party but said it will not be paying his legal fees.
“I operate on the premise that people are innocent until proven guilty,” he told ITV Border.
“He’s obviously been questioned, as we know, under caution.
“He’s no longer the chief executive of the party – I’ll be castigated, I’m sure, if we pay his legal fees and castigated if we don’t pay his legal fees.
“So, we’ve taken the decision as a party not to pay those legal fees given he’s no longer the chief executive of the party I think that’s pretty reasonable.”
Mr Yousaf insisted the SNP remains in a “position of strength” and has the opportunity to rebuild under his leadership.
He said he has asked the SNP’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) to carry out a review into governance and transparency, with a motion to be presented at a meeting on Saturday.
He also said he would “very imminently” confirm if he will launch legal action against the UK government after it blocked a bill backed by MSPs that would have made it easier and quicker to change gender.
During his leadership campaign he made it clear the block was an “undemocratic veto over legislation that was passed by a majority of the Scottish Parliament”.