Catalan government backtracks and will help former officials face €5.4m fine
Public body to act as financial guarantor of 34 accused by Spain’s Court of Auditors of illicitly promoting Catalan independence
The Catalan government has backtracked and will indeed help 34 former officials cover a €5.4-million fine for illicitly promoting the independence push abroad.
The Catalan Institute of Finances, a public institution controlled by the government, will act as a financial guarantor—thus protecting former officials from having their assets seized when the deadline for paying the fine is up on Thursday.
Spain’s Court of Auditors has accused former officials, including ex-presidents and other top politicians, of misusing public funds from 2011 to 2017 to advance the interests of the independence movement internationally.
The Catalan government, which remains under control of pro-independence parties, is wary of the potential legal consequences public servants could face if the administration acts as a financial guarantor, and even ruled out doing so on Tuesday.
But on Wednesday morning, the finance minister of the Catalan government, Jaume Giró, said that Catalan Institute of Finances staff had personally contacted him to express their willingness to help the former officials.
The government will move forward with plans to set up a €10 million risk fund to cover fines such as those handed down by the Court of Auditors. Giró suggested that an international bank could act as a financial guarantor of the fund after Spanish lenders rejected taking part in the operation.
Who faces the largest fines?
Former Catalan president Artur Mas and former finance minister Andreu Mas-Colell face a €2.8m claim for the public funds allegedly spent from 2011 to 2016 on trips and government offices abroad.
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and former vice president Oriol Junqueras must pay €1.98m for their tenure between 2016 and 2017, when Catalonia held a referendum deemed illegal and subsequently declared independence.
In all, some 34 former officials are under investigation, including some of the politicians who spent more than three years in prison for their role during the referendum bid and who were pardoned by the Spanish government, such as former vice president Oriol Junqueras.
The Court of Auditors has scrutinized the public funds spent by Diplocat, a semipublic consortium aimed at fostering Catalonia's interests abroad, and which encompasses the Catalan government, local and regional authorities, trade unions, universities, and even FC Barcelona.
The former Diplocat secretary-general, Albert Royo, faces a €3.63 million claim from the Court of Auditors, more than any other defendant.
The second-largest fine (€3.16m) goes to Mireia Vidal, who served as the auditor general of the Catalan government from 2011 to 2016, and was tasked with monitoring public spending.
The court also wants former Catalan officials to repay large sums allegedly spent on the network of government offices abroad, with hundreds of thousands of euros linked to the so-called delegations in France, the United States, Italy, and the United Kingdom, among others.
Both Diplocat and most government offices abroad were shut down by Spanish authorities in the fall of 2017, being deemed propaganda tools. They reopened in 2018 when pro-independence parties regained control of the Catalan government.
Other politicians that are being requested to pay large sums of money include former presidency minister Francesc Homs, fined €2.9 millions, and former foreign action minister Raül Romeva, who is being held accountable for €2.1 millions worth of public money.