Public Prosecutor reduces damages claim to €3.4m in Court of Auditors case

It keeps the accusation over the referendum and foreign action but limits the costs of the Independence bid to a third

3 min
The headquarters of the Court of Audit in Madrid.

MadridThe Public Prosecutor's Office will maintains its offensive against the Catalan Independence Bid in the Court of Auditors, but it is reducing its harshness. The lawsuit filed on Wednesday against 35 former Catalan government officials over the 2017 referendum and the Generalitat's foreign action between 2011 and 2017 reduces the damages claimed back to €3.4m. It is a third of the €9m for which the defendants were forced to present bail. Even so, although the state attorney general, Dolores Delgado, appointed Manuel Martín-Granizo, of the Progressive Union of Prosecutors, the public prosecutor's office will still be part of the accusation, alongside Societat Civil Catalana, which a few days ago already presented its accusation.

Regarding the 1-O, the Prosecutor's Office finally figures in 1,219,838 euros the amount that it considers that the pro-independence leaders could have spent irregularly, while the provisional liquidation was 3,903,294 euros. Similarly, in the part that affects spending on foreign affairs, the Public Prosecutor's Office reduces the amount requested to 2,209,503 euros, far from the 5,150,711 that were initially liquidated. In its full brief, which has not yet been provided to the parties or the media, the Prosecutor's Office details for which facts each defendant has to answer jointly, since there are some who are indicted for the 1-O and Foreign Affairs and others who only for one of the two branches

Ideological freedom

Through a statement, the Prosecutor has summarily explained the criteria it has followed to specify the accusation, which in the case of the Catalan government's foreign action and diplomacy has been a source of controversy: in the initial phase of the procedure had included trips and programmes abroad of an institutional nature that the instructing delegate of the Court of Auditors had linked to the Independence bid. "The lawsuit respects and applies a principle of ideological freedom in relation to the purpose of travel to give lectures or attend debates, conferences and book presentations. Most of these activities cannot be considered to be aimed exclusively at publicising the Independence bid," the Prosecutor's Office argues. "The claims made in the course of these debates, conferences or lectures would be covered by the fundamental right to freely express and disseminate thoughts, ideas and opinions," it adds.

Another of the parameters followed by the Public Prosecutor's Office is that of legal certainty, with the goal that its denunciation does not contradict what has been adopted by the courts. In relation to the foreign action, the aim is to determine whether the Generalitat's foreign action exceeded its competences. It takes as a reference the Constitutional Court ruling of April 2015, which suspended the law 16/2014 on foreign action and relations with the European Union approved by the Government then presided by Artur Mas.

On the 2017 Referendum, it takes as a guide what the Supreme Court determined in the judgement on the Independence bid. It leaves out of the lawsuit former Catalan ministers Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull, Carles Mundó, Santi Vila and Meritxell Borràs – acquitted of the crime of embezzlement – but maintains the exiled Toni Comín and Lluís Puig, given that, despite not having been tried, Manuel Marchena ruled that they used their departments to facilitate the vote. Puigdemont is also included for being Catalan president at the time of the events. The Prosecutor's Office also leaves out intermediate positions such as former secretary of Economy Josep Maria Jové and former general director Natàlia Garriga, two Generalitat auditors and former director of Patrimony Francesc Sutrias.

A new respite?

Those investigated by the Court of Auditors were given some respite when the new courtroom decided a few weeks ago to accept the guarantees provided by the Institut Català de Finances for the €5.4m bail the investigating delegate imposed in June last year. The decision, taken by two votes to one, allowed money from the solidarity fund to be freed up and avoided the scenario of having to present personal property as collateral until a hypothetical conviction.

Nevertheless, the winding down of the judicialisation of the Independence bid is partial. The Prosecutor's Office has not considered withdrawing as prosecution. The Spanish government has been aware for months that this is an important issue in the context of détente with the pro-independence movement and the organ's renewal may end up benefiting the defendants. The courtroom is composed of four people, two proposed by the PP and two by the PSOE. The counselor who will judge the case is Elena Hernáez, former high-ranking official in Isabel Díaz Ayuso's first government in Madrid, but in case of appeal there is a majority of members appointed by the PSOE.