MINISTERS discussed plans with a Chinese firm to build a giant social housing factory in Central Scotland weeks before Nicola Sturgeon claimed there were "no actual proposals on the table" as part of a controversial £10 billion deal.

Documents released by the Scottish Government reveal that the First Minister said in a private letter in January that she was "delighted" with "initial project proposals" that had been put forward by representatives of two Chinese companies the previous month, when a six-hour meeting with officials took place and a string of specifics over possible investments were discussed.

The SNP leader went on to sign a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the firms, Sinofortone and China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group (CR3), in late March. It came after they unveiled further proposals to build a large-scale facility in the Falkirk area to produce thousands of pre-fabricated social houses that would be put up across the Central Belt.

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The Scottish Government also agreed to help find offices for 100 people for the companies and met with RBS and fund managers to "accelerate investment". It believed developments in Loudoun Castle, Falkirk and Grangemouth could form the core of an investment portfolio.

The revelations appear to contradict claims made by Ms Sturgeon in the Holyrood election campaign, when she came under pressure after it emerged that CR3 was owned by a company that had been blacklisted by Norway's oil fund after being implicated in corruption.

In April, asked about the deal, Ms Sturgeon said: "There are no actual proposals on the table at this stage." An SNP statement, issued later that week, stated: "As the First Minister said there is no list of specific projects on the table."

Scottish Labour said that the SNP was guilty of "simply not telling the Scottish people the truth" and will push for Holyrood's economy committee to launch an enquiry.

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon was forced to deny that the First Minister had misled the public. When it was put to him that the documents appeared to contradict the claim that no actual proposals were on the table, he replied "I think we're into semantics." Asked whether the First Minister had lied to voters when she said no proposals were on the table, he replied: "no she didn't... there is nothing agreed."

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It also emerged that senior figures at RBS discussed funding models with the Chinese and Scottish Government alongside SNP donor and businessman Brian Souter. RBS and Mr Souter supplied comments for a press release announcing the deal that was later ditched by Ms Sturgeon's office, leaving details to emerge in the Chinese media.

Labour also raised questions over Mr Souter, who had previously said he had no involvement in the MoU, but had in fact been lined up as a potential investor and Ms Sturgeon was told had offered "very welcome" support and endorsement before she signed the deal. It emerged last night that Mr Souter would play no further role, with a spokesman saying "investment opportunities were not aligned to our criteria".

At a meeting in February, the Chinese asked Ms Sturgeon to establish a "close and personal relationship" with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said that up to £20bn, double the figure publicly cited, could be made available for investment over the next two decades.

Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, repeated his call for the MoU to be torn up and said the documents had confirmed his "worst fears".

He questioned why the documents included requests for mentions of the China Railway company, the firm implicated corruption and human rights abuses, to be removed from the MoU.

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He added: "The First Minister said there were no specific projects, but she sent a message, a special letter, expressing her delight that the specific projects had been well received. Far from clearing the Government, it makes it worse."

SNP backbencher James Dornan called on opposition parties to apologise for making 'misleading' claims over the agreement, saying an "unremitting obsession with trying to discredit the SNP" could scare off investment.

Keith Brown, the economy secretary, said more than 70 pages of documents, which the Government was forced to release following Freedom of Information requests, showed it had done nothing wrong.

He added: "The papers confirm that the interest from Chinese investors with the potential of up to £10bn of investment in a range of private and local authority projects was serious and credible, but that discussions remain at an early stage, with no specific projects or any investment whatsoever agreed. The papers also confirm the interest of the Scottish Government in investment that is 'responsible and sustainable' and also in the use of local labour and supply chains."