International expert takes the stand at Catalan trial

The second witness of the day is Helena Catt, set to be followed by law enforcement officials

Helena Catt speaks in Spain's Supreme Court (by EFE)
Helena Catt speaks in Spain's Supreme Court (by EFE) / ACN

ACN | Madrid

March 27, 2019 03:55 PM

The Catalan trial resumed its afternoon session with a testimony from Helena Catt, the second international expert to take the stand over some academic work she did for the Catalan Public Diplomacy Council (Diplocat), summoned by the public prosecutor and the solicitor general.

Additionally, witnesses set to speak include two Catalan police officers, expected to speak about their experiencesduring September 20 raids in Sabadell, where they were injured, as well as a Spanish Guardia Civil police officer.

Diplocat as center of debates

Catt was the lead of an international election research team that did academic work on October 1 for the referendum at the request of Diplocat, a part-public group set up by the Catalan government.

Diplocat was famously shut down with the application of Article 155, Spain’s takeover of Catalan self-government as a response to Catalonia’s declaration of independence. Then and now, Diplocat has been the center of debates, with some alleging it acts for pro-independence, and others defending it merely promotes Catalonia’s ties and image abroad.

Speaking as a witness in the Catalan trial, the former head of Diplocat, Albert Royo, denied that the role of the international team lead by Catt was to act as observers, but to write a report on the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain. 

First witness was German MP at referendum

The first witness to speak on day 23 of the proceedings was also international, German politician Bernhard von Grünberg, who at the time of the 2017 referendum and his visit to Catalonia was an MP for the Social Democratic Party.

"Despite threats,” said Von Grünberg, who was called as a witness at the request of indicted Òmnium Cultural leader Jordi Cuixart, “people went to vote, waited for many hours, were subject to intimidation, and didn’t resort to violence."

The German MP denied that he acted as an “international observer" on referendum day: “My motivation was to visit Catalonia and talk with all parties. By no means was my priority acting as an observer or validating the vote," he told the court.

Spanish electoral authority meeting for judges

The morning session of the trial ended around midday on Wednesday and started again at 4pm, with a long break because two judges from the Supreme Court, Ana Ferrer and Luciano Varela, are members of the Spanish electoral authority (JEC) and attended a group meeting during that time.

Trial sources confirm that Varela and Ferrer joined the JEC meeting late so as to allegedly avoid the first subject on the roster, about Catalonia, as they insisted they’ve done in previous meetings, so as to avoid a conflict of interests with the trial they are presiding over. 

Research report

Helena Catt testified in court today that she received money from Diplocat, but she was not hired nor paid to be an international observer. Instead, she was hired by the diplomacy council of Catalonia to carry out a research project within a historical context. 

When asked by the prosecutor if she was hired to observe the vote, Catt replied: "I was employed to do a research report, which was to cover everything that was happening. Because a vote was one of the things that was happening, we had to watch it"

She went on to explain that the group she worked with were "employed by Diplocat in order to conduct research on the ongoing context in Catalonia at that time, within a historical perspective."

Lawyers then asked her could her work be described as an observation mission, which the electoral expert rejected. "Definitely not. It was a research project," Catt reiterated. "In an observation mission, the main target is to make an announcement on whether the vote was free and fair. That was not our goal."