Scotland’s former leader and pro-independence figurehead Alex Salmond has been charged with attempted rape and other sexual assaults, Scottish prosecutors said on Thursday after a court hearing.
Speaking outside the courtroom, Salmond protested his innocence.
“I refute absolutely these allegations of criminality and I will defend myself to the upmost in court,” he said.
Salmond said he had been formally arrested and charged on Wednesday and released on condition he attend the hearing.
Prosecutors said the 64-year-old had been charged with two counts of attempted rape, nine counts of sexual assault, two indecent assaults and one count of breach of the peace.
Salmond, who became Scottish first minister in 2007, took Scotland to the brink of independence in a historic referendum in 2014 before stepping down that year.
“We can confirm that a 64-year-old man has been arrested and charged,” a spokesperson for Police Scotland said in a statement released in response to reports about the arrest.
Media law in Britain does not allow details of cases to be revealed once a suspect has been charged and before a trial.
Salmond last year took legal action against the government — now led by his former Scottish National Party (SNP) colleague Nicola Sturgeon — over how it handled the complaints process against him over harassment claims.
Earlier this month he won his judicial review in Scotland’s highest civil court after the government conceded it had acted unlawfully while investigating the claims.
But the police’s separate criminal investigation continued.
‘The dream shall never die’
The feisty politician has been the face of Scottish nationalism for decades.
In 1990 he took over leadership of the SNP, steering the party towards the political centre just as Britain’s new Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was promising greater devolution to the home nations.
In the first elections for the devolved Scottish parliament in 1999, the SNP lost out to Labour and Salmond quit as leader.
He said his decision was “forever”, but he was re-elected in 2004 saying: “I changed my mind.”
In 2007, Salmond became the first SNP first minister, leading a minority government for four years before sweeping to a majority victory in 2011.
That win paved the way for the 2014 independence referendum, which he spearheaded in typically ebullient fashion, urging Scots to “break the shackles” of the 307-year-old union with England.
But after 55 percent voted to stay part of the United Kingdom, Salmond stepped down as first minister and party leader — vowing that the dream of more power for Scotland would nonetheless live on.
“For Scotland, the campaign continues and the dream shall never die,” he said at the time.
Following the emergence of the harassment allegations last August, Salmond resigned from the SNP.
He now hosts a weekly political chat show on Russian television channel RT, which suggested he was being prosecuted because of his work.
RT Russia wrote on Telegram in a post about the arrest that “it’s dangerous to be an RT presenter”.
“Alex Salmond has long angered the whole British and Scottish establishment,” it said.
Salmond’s charisma has proved hugely effective through his career, particularly in the long campaign for independence.
His supporters praise his unflagging determination and his political know-how, while his opponents brand him arrogant and misogynistic with a penchant for populism.
Many on both sides agree that he is one of the most talented politicians of his generation.
Sociable in public, Salmond is discreet about his private life. His wife Moira is 17 years older than he is and is only rarely seen by his side. The couple have no children.
His passions are horse racing, good wine and curry, along with football and that Scottish invention — golf.