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Court of Auditors to seize assets of former officials accused of illicit foreign action

Accounting body rejects Catalan Public Finance Institute's €5.4 m guarantee for ex-government members

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14 October 2021 07:43 PM

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ACN | Madrid

Spain's Court of Auditors is set to seize the assets of 28 former officials accused of illicit foreign action from 2011 to 2017 for whom the Catalan Public Finance Institute had put up a €5.4 million guarantee.

The accounting body rejected the Catalan government's move to cover the potential fine on Thursday morning after calling it into question when it was first announced late last July.

The public Finance Institute attempted to put up the money to prevent these individuals, including former presidents Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont, from having their assets seized as the Court of Auditors deliberates on whether they should ultimately be fined or not. 

A total of 34 former government employees were accused of illegally promoting the Catalan push for independence abroad throughout the 2010s - a charge that was not addressed in the 2019 Supreme Court trial of 9 leaders who were sentenced, and then pardoned, for the 2017 referendum. 

The Court of Auditors continues to look into their civil liability although the Supreme Court ruling only made mention of €2.02m in misused public funds associated with the organization of the 2017 referendum.

Who could face 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.

In a press conference on Thursday evening, Mas said that the accused have got "a feeling of total defenselessness due to the arbitrariness of the court."

"It seems like we haven't even been given two days to present our guarantees," he said, adding that he has tried to offer his home as guarantee but he does not know whether this will be accepted or his savings and salary will begin to be seized. 

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 by Spain 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 whole Catalan independence camp has flatly rejected the latest move by the court, including the government. "The fact that the Court of Auditors requests the seizing of assets for officials is a political decision of vengeance," said Jaume Giró on Thursday evening, after seeing his strategy to use €5.4 million from the Catalan Public Finance Institute as a guarantee to avoid the individuals being seized has failed. 

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 former official.

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

Former economy minister Andreu Mas-Colell has received a wave of global support, including from 33 Nobel Prize winners, as the accounting body decides whether he should personally be held liable for alleged government spending.  

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

Around 20 other world-renowned economists also signed the text, which included calling the ongoing proceedings 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 recall that the 18,000-page document of accusations does not cite his alleged connection to 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 of full integrity," the letter reads. "The result of these proceedings 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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