ALEX Salmond is facing questions about his efforts to woo leading businessmen after it emerged his Government overruled officials' advice to enable Sir Ian Wood's controversial Aberdeen City Garden project to go ahead.

Official papers seen by The Herald show Aberdeen council's proposal for the project was given the green light last year despite being ranked 10th by the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) out of 16 proposals by Scottish councils to take part in a public-private finance initiative known as tax increment financing (TIF).

In the past week, the First Minister has been criticised after it emerged he had asked US tycoon Donald Trump to back the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only person convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, while The Herald has revealed he had heaped praise on Sir Brian Souter, the SNP's biggest donor.

Political opponents want to know why his Government approved the £140 million Aberdeen scheme, towards which oil magnate Sir Ian Wood had pledged £50m – ahead of six other applications deemed more suitable by the SFT.

Senior officials at Renfrewshire Council and Glasgow Airport were enraged to learn their joint proposal to develop the airport and its surrounding enterprise zone as a major hub for renewables manufacturing had been rejected despite being recommended as one of the top four proposals by the SFT.

Other proposals that were ranked as more economically viable than Aberdeen's came from East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire and West Lothian. The information about the rankings was released under freedom of information after the Government spent nearly a year refusing to give it up.

Mark Macmillan, leader of Renfrewshire Council, said: "There are clearly serious questions for the Scottish Government about the transparency and credibility of the bidding and evaluation process.

"Given that four projects were to receive support, and that one of the chosen projects has been abandoned, I am calling on the Scottish Government to urgently reassess Renfrewshire's application."

Labour MSP for Aberdeen Lewis Macdonald said: "On the basis of what we have seen with Mr Trump this week, you have to wonder what Mr Salmond thought he was going to get."

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said the decision was unacceptable and could have left Aberdeen taxpayers exposed to considerable risk.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Aberdeen's project was chosen to ensure good geographical spread of TIF pilots. It was also selected because of the potential of the scheme to lever in £55m of private funding immediately, representing 40% of the estimated total cost."