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Court of Auditors 'doubts' over public finance institute guarantee for former officials accused of illicit foreign action

Spanish accounting body requests solicitor general report on potential guarantor 

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27 July 2021 12:53 PM

by

ACN|Barcelona

Spain's Court of Auditors has "doubts" regarding the Catalan Public Finance Institute's decision to put up a €5.4 million guarantee for the former officials accused of illicit foreign action from 2011 to 2017 and has requested a solicitor general report on the measure.

Specifically, the accounting body has asked the solicitor general to issue an opinion on whether "the affected regional administration itself" can act as a guarantor. It will decide to accept the guarantee or not after receiving the report. 

There are 34 ex-officials, 29 of which who have agreed to have the Catalan Public Finance Institute act as their guarantor, who face a Court of Auditors fine. 

As the fine payment due date extension was Monday, the Court of Auditors will proceed to seize the goods of two former officials who are yet to present a guarantee.

If the Catalan Public Finance Institute guarantee is not deemed to be valid in the end, the remaining 29 officials will suffer the same fate.

Catalonia criticizes questioning of guarantee

Catalan authorities blasted the Court of Auditors for questioning the legality of the mechanism by which the public body would act as a guarantor. 

"The Court of Auditors should stop acting politically," said Patrícia Plaja, the Catalan government spokesperson. When considering the measure, "they should only be influenced by legal criteria," she argued. 

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 million, and former foreign action minister Raül Romeva, who is being held accountable for €2.1 million worth of public money. 

33 Nobel Prize winners against Court of Auditors' case

The tribunal considers that the executive spent public money abroad to promote Catalonia’s attempt to split with Spain and deem that around 40 politicians and figures should be held personally liable for this, among them former minister Andreu Mas-Colell, who has received a wave of global support including that of 33 Nobel Prize winners

letter of support published on June 22 in the newspaper 'El País' is signed by 33 Nobel Prize winners including Joseph Stiglitz, Gorge Akerlof, Robert Aumann, Angus Deaton, Esther Duflo, and Eugene Fama.

Around 20 other world-class economists also signed the text, which included calling the open procedure against the retired professor "unfair."

"We are deeply concerned about the news and the situation of professor Andreu Mas-Colell," they say. The prestigious economists remind that the 18,000-page document of accusations does not include his connection with the independence push.

"Those who have been in touch with professor Mas-Colell for several years as colleagues, students, and co-authors know he is a person with full integrity," the letter reads. "The result of this procedure could have a negative impact on the will [of scientists] to return to their countries and contribute to the public service," they say. Mas-Colell had been a professor abroad before returning to Catalonia.

Indeed, he is a world-leading microeconomist and formerly the Louis Berkman Professor of Economics at Harvard. He also founded the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics and served as the head of the Department of Economics and Business at Universitat de Pompeu Fabra during his career, before becoming Catalonia's economy minister.

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