Politics 24/04/2021

The independence movement faces a new millionaire bail, now due to its external action

The Court of Auditors summons Puigdemont, Junqueras, Mas and about thirty officials of the Generalitat to claim the money spent on the promotion of the Catalan independence bid

4 min
Raül Romeva, Oriol Junqueras and Carles Puigdemont, on January 24, 2017 at a conference at the European Parliament

BarcelonaThe Court of Auditors has summoned former presidents Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont, former vice-president Oriol Junqueras, former minister Raül Romeva, and some thirty other officials and ex-officials of the Generalitat to assume a new bail that is expected to be in the millions, now for alleged irregularities in the external action of the Government. The court has finished the instruction that includes the activity of the Government abroad between 2011 and 2017 and urges them to deposit a provisional liquidation of an amount still to be specified for accounting responsibilities. In the report originating the instruction, 416.8 million euros of expenditure were analysed, of which it was inferred that a part could have been destined to cover activities to promote the Catalan independence bid. Under scrutiny is especially the activity of Diplocat, which accounted for 15.8 million euros, but also added conferences, travel and expenses to the delegations of the Government that the Court considers that may have exceeded the powers in external action that the Generalitat has. All of them are summoned on June 29th at half past nine in the morning in Madrid, and the summons can be extended to the 30th if necessary.

It is not the first case related to the independence bid that the Court of Auditors is reviewing. The pro-independence leaders, with Mas, Joana Ortega, Francesc Homs and Irene Rigau at the head, had to assume the payment of almost 5 million euros for the cost of the consultation of 9-N - the case is now in the Supreme Court, which has not yet admitted to process the appeal of the defenses against the sentence - and in the case of the referendum of 1-O were about 4 million, with Puigdemont, Junqueras and the rest of MPs as the main parties affected. In fact, this second case, derived from the sentence of the Supreme Court that condemned the MPs for embezzlement, has ended up joining with that of foreign action, and the two will have an accounting trial in parallel. The bonds have not been returned and, despite the fact that most of them have been paid thanks to the solidarity fund, many of them have assets seized. If they are now made to pay 15 million more and are unable to do so, the court could seize all their present and future assets. In addition, the Public Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation to clarify whether criminal offences may have been committed in the Government's external action.

The origin of the cause

The original commission to retail audit the foreign action of the Generalitat was made by the Spanish Parliament at the end of 2017 with the impulse of the PP. The compilation of all the invoices was not difficult considering that the 155 Constitutional article was in force and that the Catalan Foreign Affairs Department was one of the most inspected by the Spanish government during that period. Even so, the Court of Auditors complained about the absence of some invoices. In March 2019, the audit report on these expenses was approved. In a document of more than 500 pages, it reviewed a total of 416.8 million euros spent mainly on delegations abroad and pointed to alleged irregularities. The court's thesis is that part of the resources allocated to the promotion of the Generalitat abroad in recent years can be linked to the momentum of the pro-independence cause and, therefore, an accounting responsibility can be attributed to the former members of the executive because they do not consider it legal. This implies that the court may ask for millions of euros to pro-independence leaders - it has not yet detailed the amount - if it concludes that it is all part of the Catalan independence bid.

The Generalitat, which in theory is the injured party and who will ultimately receive the money, dismisses the irregularities and has always defended the archiving of the case despite the fact that the Court of Auditors has asked it to appear as a complainant. Societat Civil Catalana and other unionist entities such as Catalan Lawyers for the Constitution and the Civic and Cultural Association did. All three, in addition to the Public Prosecutor's Office and the State Attorney's Office, have also been summoned on June 29th.

Among the expenses detailed by the Court of Auditors and that the organ considers irregular are, for example, 479,633 euros spent on a total of 45 trips abroad by public officials. Some trips that, according to the report, served to "promote the bid" and, therefore, makes them, in the opinion of the court, irregular. It also includes 515,675 euros paid in reports and advice by the foreign delegations of the Government, among other things. "The lack of control of the economic and financial activity of the delegations, their financial autonomy and the absence of a system to know their activities and the cost, as well as the breadth and ambiguity of their actions, allows them to have made and financed all kinds of activities or expenses without limitations and without justifying the need or controlling the expenditure", the authors of the report pointed out.

Conference in the European Parliament

Thus, all of the Generalitat's activity abroad has been reviewed, and the Supreme Court has already assessed part of it during the 1-O trial. In the ruling, Manuel Marchena, in fact, endorsed, for example, that the conference in the European Parliament held by Puigdemont, Junqueras and Romeva on 24 January 2017 was covered by their "right to ideological freedom". He even excluded from the embezzlement the more than 100,000 euros that the advertisements contracted with several European newspapers (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Le Monde, Le Soir, De Standaard, Corriere della Sera and Financial Times) cost to publicise the conference, which was specifically about Catalonia's right to self-determination.

Of the rest of the conferences, events and trips by ministers, delegates or Diplocat, the Court will have to decide which ones will end up being the object of the accounting trial which those responsible for the Generalitat's external action until 2017 will be subjected to. On this calculation will depend the millions of euros in bail that is expected, despite the fact that part of it is already time-barred: liability can only be demanded for the five years prior to the complaint.

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