A Scottish shell firm with secret owners paid a Washington lobbyist to help Balkan conservatives access Donald Trump’s White House.

Shadowy Biniatta Trade has sparked a transatlantic scandal after it emerged as an unlikely funder of a campaign to promote Albania’s right-wing opposition in America.

The firm, a Scottish limited partnership or SLP, claims to trade in grain and cloth from its prestigious address at a virtual office in Edinburgh’s New Town.

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However, The Herald can reveal that it has failed to comply anti-money-laundering laws under which it had until last August to reveal its owners or face daily fines of £500.

Biniatta last year paid $150,000 to a former senior campaign advisor to presidential candidate Ted Cruz to lobby on behalf of the Albanian Democratic Party.

Prosecutors in Albania are looking in to the payment, first highlighted by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, because the Democratic Party had not declared it.

Biniatta Trade's Website

HeraldScotland:

The lobbyist - Nick Muzin - in November declared that the money was “on behalf of the Democratic Party of Albania to promote conservative leadership in Albania to business and political leaders in the United States”.

His declaration, to the Department of Justice (DoJ) came as a succession of US lobbyists registered foreign clients after the indictment of Mr Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a lobbyist who had acted for the ousted president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, a key ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Mr Muzin is a former chief of staff to two republican senators and is photographed on his website with party leaders, including Mr Trump.

Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha initially called reports of US lobbying for his party a matter of “smoke bombs and lies”. Later his party confirmed the DoJ declaration of Biniatta and two other lobbying contracts. Mr Basha late last year told the Albanian parliament that his party has nothing to hide

Biniatta is just the latest SLP to run in to controversy. For example, it shares its St Vincent Street address - and a formation agency - with a series of similar firms fronting for controversial binary options firms.

It was supposed to declare a person of significant control by August 2017 but has not done so, filings at the UK’s corporate register Companies House show. Its partners are two entirely opaque companies from the Central American tax haven of Belize.

The firm’s website, written in poor English, suggest it has a series of high-profile clients, including Harrods.

It says it is a “world top class” supplier of agricultural products and textiles, including fake fur. The Herald repeatedly attempted to ring its Edinburgh number but it was constantly engaged. Like other SLPs, it has never filed any accounts so it is impossible to verify its website’s claims.

Green MSP Andy Wightman has been campaigning for a crackdown on the abuse of Scottish shell firms.

He said: “With SLPs being implicated in a wide range of criminal endeavours across the world as well as these revelations about political lobbying, it is time to consider the introduction of new criminal sanctions, including an offence of vicarious liability for those who set up and facilitate such crimes.”

Andy Wightman

HeraldScotland: Andy Wightman, who is hoping to enter Holyrood by winning a Lothian list seat