Arrested businesspeople released but still under investigation

Supposed irregular use of public money for pro-independence push flatly rejected by lawyers

Guardia Civil police officers raiding the seat of the Plataforma ProSeleccions Catalanes lobby on October 28, 2020 (by Blanca Blay)
Guardia Civil police officers raiding the seat of the Plataforma ProSeleccions Catalanes lobby on October 28, 2020 (by Blanca Blay) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

October 30, 2020 01:10 PM

The 31 businesspeople and politicians linked to the independence push that had been arrested on Wednesday were all released after a Spanish police anti-corruption operation ordered by a Barcelona court.

While 22 of them were already sent home on Wednesday, nine more spent two nights in a Guardia Civil station before facing a judicial hearing on Friday – all of them rejected answering to the cross-examination, and were released without precautionary measures.

Yet, the investigation against all nine and the others will continue, with the court leading the case for the crimes of misuse of funds, bribery, breach of official duty, money laundering, public disorders and influence peddling.

The pro-independence camp and defense lawyers have already called the operation "repression" and framed it in a supposed "general cause" against their ideology.

Alleged irregular activities

Spain's Guardia Civil is investigating whether allegedly irregular subsidies granted by Barcelona's regional authority (Diputació de Barcelona) to entities close to the now-defunct pro-independence CDC party ended up financing activities related to the pro-independence push – these subsidies are also being investigated and in fact, the 'Volhov' case is a branch of the one affecting the Diputació de Barcelona dating back to 2016.

Some of this money is believed could have been used to fund Tsunami Democràtic, the anonymous group that organized several protests after the 2017 referendum leaders were sentenced. Along with the occupation of the Barcelona airport, one of the biggest protest actions in late 2019 consisted of blocking off the AP-7 highway at the French border, for which 196 people are under investigation.

Russia's supposed plot

A spin-off of the same investigation includes supposed efforts of those in favor of a Catalan Republic to seek Russia's support in the run-up of the 2017 declaration of independence.

The judge in charge of the case believes that the Kremlin might have been ready to send 10,000 soldiers to defend Catalonia's independence and pay back the country's public debt – something already flatly rejected by the defense lawyers and by the Vladimir Putin administration.

Irregularities in new school

During the investigation, an allegedly irregular rezoning of an estate to build a new school in Cabrera de Mar was found to have taken place. A foundation chaired by one of the arrested, Xavier Vendrell, was in charge of managing the new educational institution. The charter school license granted by the Catalan education department has also been deemed to be irregular. 

Main accused and judge's reasons

Vendrell, former Catalan minister for pro-independence Esquerra, is one of the main accused in the case. Together with editor Oriol Soler and former senior official of the now-defunct CiU party David Madí, they are deemed to be the masterminds of Tsunami Democràtic.

The judge also gives credibility to a 2018 intercepted conversation between the businessman and activist Víctor Terradellas, and both Madí and Soler, where the former confirmed Russia's supposed readiness to support independence.

As for Soler, the judge suspects that he had ties to Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and a Kremlin-sponsored "de-stabilization strategy."

Among those detained was also the head of Carles Puigdemont's office, Josep Lluís Alay.

He was released on Wednesday morning but an investigation into alleged misuse of funds will continue – he is accused of irregularly earning money from work he carried out as a consultant for the 2017 Crans Montana international forum celebrated in Switzerland.