Minister Garriga denies accusations of embezzlement in High Court hearing
She claims works at CTTI for which she is being investigated were fully justified
BarcelonaMore than four years have passed since the Catalan Independence Referendum, but the courts continue to hear cases brought against its instigators. This Monday, Catalan culture minister Natàlai Garriga appeared before Catalonia's High Court over her role in the vote. Back in 2017, she was the head of staff of the Department of the Vice-Presidency and Economy and was one of those arrested in the Guardia Civil operation on September 20, 2017 at the headquarters of that department. Garriga has denied any type of embezzlement and, in addition, has defended that she was never sent any communications by the Constitutional Court relating to the referendum. In fact, she has asked for a document to be issued to attest it.
One of the keys to this case revolves around the crimes she is accused of. Formally, Garriga is still being prosecuted for disobedience and embezzlement, but both the Prosecutor's Office and the State Attorney's Office have already signalled they prefer for her to be prosecuted for disobedience only. The nuance is important because if she is convicted, disobedience would entail disqualification from office, but embezzlement would entail a prison sentence.
Court sources explain her statement this Monday focused precisely on the issue of embezzlement. One of the issues being investigated is Garriga's authorising works to do up a warehouse next to the Centre for Telecommunications and Information Technologies (CTTI) so that it could hold a call centre in the run up to the referendum. According to the indictment, Garriga signed the tender of architectural and installation projects and construction management through four minor contracts of around €17,000 each, totalling €70,390 plus VAT.
Garriga has argued that the investment in this warehouse was fully justified because the Generalitat did not have a space of this kind. In addition, she has added that it was later used for the December 2017 elections – called by the State after it suspended home rule – and later to fight the pandemic as a centre where the track and trace teams were housed. In fact, it is currently housing the Health Service's hotline. Garriga only responded to her lawyer. The case will probably go to trial, but at this moment the most likely outcome is that she will be tried for disobedience but embezzlement charges will be dropped.
Support outside the court
As has become usual in these cases, this Monday pro-independence parties and organisations gathered outside the court to express their support for Garriga. Several members of the Government were present (Laura Vilagrà, Roger Torrent, Tània Verge and Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray), as well as Parliament speaker Laura Borràs and representatives from ERC, JxCat, the CUP, Òmnium and the ANC. Borràs has expressed her support to the minister and emphasised that judicial processes like this prove that "this is the dialogue that the State wants". In short, a show of support for the minister which at the same time criticises Garriga's party ERC's negotiating strategy.
Catalan president Pere Aragonès also expressed his support on social media. He lamented that "political and judicial repression" against the independence movement continues: "Injustice drives us to continue fighting with determination for our goal: amnesty, self-determination and independence," he said. Two of Aragonès's ministers are facing trials linked to the Independence bid, which could lead to disqualification from office. One is Garriga; the other is Torrent, for his time as Parliament Speaker.