Ruaraidh Nicolson was appointed as an assistant chief constable (ACC) despite never completing the elite Strategic Command Course (SCC).
The Scottish Government believed Nicolson's appointment could result in the "possibility of a challenge" from an unsuccessful candidate, but in the end concerns were allayed.
In 2012, the Scottish Police Authority - which oversees the single force - unveiled the six ACCs who were tasked with key areas of policing.
Nicolson, who had been temporary deputy constable for the old Strathclyde force, took charge of the key crime, serious organised crime and counter-terrorism portfolio. He was one of six ACCs to receive inflation-busting pay rises of more than £10,000 a year. They each secured a fixed annual salary of £115,000 in a deal reached before Christmas.
Questions are being asked about the fairness of the SPA-led appointment process, for which the Scottish Government provided the secretariat.
The job specification for the ACC roles stated it was essential the applicant had successfully completed a relevant police Strategic Command Course. The SCC, run by the National Policing Improvement Agency, is a prestigious leadership development programme for officers who aspire to be an assistant, deputy or chief constable.
Officers attend the SCC after they have been successful at the Senior Police National Assessment Centre (PNAC). The job spec stated applicants who were unsuccessful in passing PNAC that year would not be considered.
The Sunday Herald has learned that Nicolson has not passed PNAC or completed the SCC. A Scottish Government report on the process stated that, of 15 applicants, two withdrew after being unsuccessful at PNAC, leaving 13 in the field. However, it added: "All 13 were assessed by their current Chief Constable (or equivalent) and HMICS [Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland] who concluded they were all suitable for appointment."
The report added that 12 of the 13 remaining candidates had either completed the SCC course, or had been successful at the 2012 PNAC. According to the SPA, one candidate was deemed to have a "relevant qualification" that was not the SCC.
The report stated: "In conclusion, on the basis of the advice from the Secretary and HMICS and their subsequent discussion, the panel recognised the SPA could be criticised if the process was considered to be unfair and that it was potentially open to legal challenge. They concluded a challenge from a staff association or an individual who had not applied was unlikely but that there was a possibility of a challenge from an unsuccessful candidate if candidate 15 was appointed. Equally the candidate could challenge a decision not to invite him to interview."
Nicolson is a graduate of the Leadership in Counter Terrorism Programme and the Executive Leadership Programme with An Garda Siochana, the Irish Garda.
The sift report added: "On balance the panel concluded that the term 'a relevant' [qualification] could be interpreted as including a course of comparable standing to the SCC and that HMICS had provided sufficient evidence that the Garda course was a comparable qualification to the SCC."
John Wilson, an SNP MSP for Central Scotland, said: "In any walk of life there should be openness and transparency when carrying out the appointment process. The fact that the [Scottish Government] report made specific mention of a potential challenge from unsuccessful candidates regarding this appointment raises concerns."
An SPA spokesman said: "Based on the applications received in response to the ACC job advert, advice was taken from HMICS who deemed that other qualifications listed in applications could be classed as 'relevant' to the Strategic Command Course (SCC). The panel therefore selected candidates for interview who were deemed to have met the minimum criteria for the post."
An HMICS spokesman said: "The then HMICS, Andrew Laing, provided professional advice on the overall suitability of all applicants, which included advice on eligibility in terms of successfully completing a relevant police strategic command course. It was a matter for the selection panel to consider this advice in terms of appointing successful candidates."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "This was an SPA appointment. The Scottish Government provided administrative support for the panel but was not part of the decision-making process."
Police Scotland declined to comment.