EDINBURGH, Scotland—Former First Minister Alex Salmond, a figurehead of Scotland’s independence movement, denied committing any crimes after appearing in court charged with multiple sex offenses, including two counts of attempted rape.
Salmond, 64, also has been charged with nine counts of sexual assault, two counts of indecent assault, and one of breach of the peace, Scottish prosecutors said.
“I am innocent of any criminality whatsoever,” Salmond told reporters on Jan. 24 outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court following a five-minute hearing that media and the public weren’t 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; it wasn’t disclosed when further hearings would take place.
The combative politician, who is widely credited with helping push support for secession to record levels, led the devolved Scottish government for seven years until 2014. As leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), he helped drive growing support for independence before 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 each other, 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 underway to discover more.
Sturgeon said the news of Salmond’s charges would come as a shock to many, but tight judicial requirements and the sensitivity of the case meant she couldn’t comment further.
By Elisabeth O’Leary