Court of Auditors to look into whether Mas should pay for 2014 vote

Auditor’s court admits complaint on illegal use of public funds that could cost banned officials €5m, while Catalan executive insists independence process is ‘unstoppable’

former president Artur Mas and ministers on their way to court (archive ACN)
former president Artur Mas and ministers on their way to court (archive ACN) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

July 19, 2017 06:10 PM

Some might say a two-year high court ban on holding public office is already payment enough. Yet former Catalan president Artur Mas could also be made to literally pay for disobeying the Constitutional Court and going ahead with a symbolic independence referendum in 2014.

Spain’s Court of Auditors on Wednesday opened an investigation into the former leader, along with his then ministers Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau and spokesman Francesc Homs, to see whether the banned officials should pay the 5.12 million euros that the 2014 vote cost. The investigation is the result of a legal complaint lodged by the organisation 'Catalan Civil Society' (Societat Civil Catalana)and the Catalan Lawyers for the Constitution association, which is supported by the state attorney general.

The two anti-independence organisations allege that the vote was illegally funded by public money. The resolution signed by former Spanish justice minister, Margarita Mariscal de Gante, came after the court overturned an appeal from the Catalan government. The court ordered an official to be appointed to lead the investigation, who will have the powers to demand judicial bonds from the four banned politicians to guarantee payment should the verdict go against them. In that case, each of the four would be expected to guarantee 1.28 million euros each.

‘They must be joking’

The Catalan government seemed undeterred by the court’s decision, with spokesman Jordi Turull resorting to irony, saying: “If they think that for five million euros we will stop independence, they must be joking.” According to Turull, the effect of the court’s decision will be to “spur on” independence supporters and cause the Catalan government “to continue on with greater rigour” in achieving the October 1 referendum.

Turull also responded to State Attorney General José Manuel Maza’s warning on Wednesday that he would investigate the purchase of ballot boxes for the referendum as a misuse of public funds, while hinting that his department would also go after any volunteers who collaborated with the October vote. Asking the Spanish government and state institutions “to explain how they plan to do all of this”, Turull accused Maza and other top state officials of “putting out fire with gasoline”, while he compared the independence process with “a tsunami that cannot be stopped”.