AMNESTY International has expressed serious concerns over Nicola Sturgeon's China deal and today warned that principles should not be sacrificed to secure billions in foreign investment.

The world leading human rights organisation has intervened in the controversy over a Scottish Government Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with two Chinese companies, one of which is owned and controlled by a state-owned construction giant that has been accused of industrial-scale corruption and seen subsidiaries blamed for illegal forced evictions of communities in Africa.

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty's programme director for Scotland, wrote to the First Minister and enclosed two damning reports about the record of the China Railway Group (CRG) and suggested that proper due diligence and an assessment of human rights and corruption records should have been a carried out before economic cooperation was discussed.

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Amnesty said that the Government should now belatedly consider whether the two firms, SinoFortone and wholly-owned CRG subsidiary China Railway No 3 Engineering Group (CR3), are suitable as partners and said a claim from their representative Sir Richard Heygate that the Chinese signatories are "squeaky clean" lacks credibility.

While more than 70 pages of documents released this week revealed that the Scottish Government has been in a detailed, high-level dialogue with the Chinese firms for months, it claims to have had no knowledge of concerns over human rights or corruption despite the information being in the public domain.

Ms McAuliffe said: "Business partnerships with China-based companies should give any government pause for careful consideration as the climate for human rights is one of the world’s most inhospitable.

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"The fact that grave reservations about potential investment opportunities for SinoFortone and CR3 have been publicly raised underlines how crucial it is that the Scottish Government should conduct thorough due diligence on any prospective partners with regard to human rights, bribery and corruption prior to discussing economic cooperation.

"In 77 pages of correspondence between the Scottish Government and facilitators of partnerships with these Chinese companies, there is a glaring omission – human rights are not mentioned once.

"There are a number of issues that should be examined in depth. We understand that this Memorandum of Understanding is a statement of intent and not a fully formed commitment which gives the Scottish Government ample time to undertake due diligence and review whether these are suitable partnerships.

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"However, we have written to the First Minister expressing our concerns as we believe she is committed to international rights obligations including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Human rights must not be traded for the sake of economic gain."

The MoU, signed in March, states that the parties should be "mutually supportive" in attempt to "develop a relationship that could lead to a program of investment into Scottish priority projects and infrastructure to the value of £10bn."

The letter, sent a fortnight ago by Amnesty, states that the proposed partnership "raises important issues in relation to public procurement and public-private partnerships" and reminds the First Minister of a briefing it gave her ahead of her official trip to China in 2014.

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It included two reports, one from the Norwegian oil fund's ethics council which led to it ditching a £26m stake in CRG after uncovering "an unacceptable risk that the company is involved in gross corruption" in 2014. The report warned that huge bribes had been paid to secure housing and rail contracts with the firm implicated in one of China's largest ever corruption cases, uncovered after a high-speed rail crash left 40 people dead.

Amnesty also sent Ms Sturgeon its own 2013 investigation report implicating CRG and its subsidiaries in illegal forced evictions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where communities were turfed out of their homes into Chinese trucks and dumped into appalling conditions to make way for a mineral processing plant linked to the mining industry.

The letter states that public procurement should be used to incentivise higher standards of corporate conduct and adds: "We hope by raising these concerns here, they will be reflected back to CR3 and add to a corporate culture which respects human rights, not just in Scotland but globally.

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"We would be grateful for some indication of whether the Scottish Government intends to undertake further due diligence on the human rights dimension of CR3's activities and those of other other business partners before entering into a contractual relationship."

Ms Sturgeon, who it is understood is yet to reply to the letter, also faces pressure over claims she misled the public over the MoU ahead of last month's election. After the human rights abuses came to light, she said there were "no actual proposals on the table" before the documents revealed that specific projects, including the construction of a factory to create prefabricated housing to be put up across the Central Belt, had in fact been discussed.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We welcome and value Amnesty International’s role and expertise in promoting and protecting human rights. As Amnesty points out, there is ‘ample time to undertake due diligence’ if specific projects involving the Scottish Government arise from the Memorandum of Understanding, including ensuring that there is no direct or indirect support for human rights abuses.”