Nicola Sturgeon has said there is “no legal basis” to suspend Alex Salmond from the SNP amid allegations of sexual harassment.
The SNP leader said the complaints were being investigated by the Scottish government – and had not been shared with her party.
Two female government employees have made allegations about Mr Salmond’s behaviour while he was first minister.
Mr Salmond has strenuously denied any claims of harassment or criminality.
Ms Sturgeon has faced calls from opposition parties to suspend Mr Salmond from the SNP since the Daily Record newspaper broke the news of the investigation on Thursday.
The paper claims to have seen the wording of one of the complaints, which describes an alleged incident at the first minister’s official residence Bute House in December 2013.
The two complaints were raised in January and are being investigated by the Scottish government under a new procedure put in place in the wake of wider concerns about harassment at Westminster and Holyrood.
In a statement Ms Sturgeon said: “In this case, unlike in some previous cases, the investigation into complaints about Alex Salmond has not been conducted by the SNP and no complaints have been received by the party.
“Also, for legal reasons, the limited information I have about the Scottish government investigation cannot at this stage be shared with the party – and rightly it is the party, not me as leader, that has the power to suspend membership.”
Mr Salmond has described the allegations as “patently ridiculous” – and has criticised the complaint handling procedure as “unjust”.
He has begun legal action seeking a judicial review of the government’s handling of the complaints.
Ms Sturgeon said that while she had no role in the investigation, she agreed the procedure used to investigate such complaints, and said the Scottish government would “defend its position rigorously”.
Ms Sturgeon added: “In summary, the party has no legal basis at this time to suspend Alex Salmond’s membership.
“Of course, should that situation change, the matter will be reconsidered, as it would be for any member.
“The party’s rules apply to all members and no one is above them.”
Ms Sturgeon also defended Leslie Evans, the Scottish government’s top civil servant, who has been singled out for criticism by Mr Salmond.
“The permanent secretary was absolutely right to ensure that the procedure was applied in this case and she has my full support in having done so,” she said.
The complaints against Mr Salmond have also been passed to Police Scotland which says it is assessing the information.
- Leader of Scottish National Party 1990-2000 and 2004-2014
- First Minister of Scotland 2007 – 2014
- Stood down after Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom