EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, a figurehead of Scotland’s independence movement, denied committing any crimes on Thursday after he appeared in court charged with multiple sex offences including two counts of attempted rape.
Scottish prosecutors said Salmond, 64, had also been charged with nine counts of sexual assault, two counts of indecent assault and one of breach of the peace.
“I am innocent of any criminality whatsoever,” Salmond, widely credited with helping push support for secession to record levels, told reporters outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court following a five-minute hearing which media and public were not allowed to attend.
“I refute absolutely these allegations of criminality and I will defend myself to the utmost in court,” he added. “I would love to say a great deal more but I’ve got to observe the rules of the court and in court is where I will state my case.”
Salmond was released on bail and it was not disclosed when further hearings would take place.
The combative politician led the devolved Scottish government for seven years until 2014. As leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), he helped drive growing support for Scottish independence but Scotland ultimately voted to stay part of the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum.
Last year, Salmond took legal action against the Scottish devolved government now led by his successor and protege Nicola Sturgeon over how it handled a complaints process against him in a sexual harassment case.
Salmond, who denied any wrongdoing, won a judicial review earlier this month on how that case was handled by the Scottish government when it conceded it had acted unlawfully in probing the harassment claims.
The case pitted the two most popular figures in the Scottish independence movement against one another, and some commentators believe it could weaken Sturgeon’s leadership just as she seeks to start a new drive for secession amid the chaos of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
A dispute has continued to simmer between two factions in the SNP around what Sturgeon knew about the case and when. An inquiry by the Scottish parliament is under way to discover more.
Sturgeon said the news of Salmond’s charges would come as a shock to many, but that tight judicial requirements and the sensitivity of the case meant she could not comment further.
Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Stephen Addison and Catherine Evans