Disqualification and fine requested for former minister who made surprise return from exile

Meritxell Serret spent three years in Belgium after 2017 independence vote before appearing at Supreme Court in March 2021

Former minister Meritxell Serret raising a fist as she leaves the Supreme Court in late March 2021 (by Andrea Zamorano)
Former minister Meritxell Serret raising a fist as she leaves the Supreme Court in late March 2021 (by Andrea Zamorano) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

September 19, 2022 02:25 PM

Prosecutors have requested a one-year disqualification from public office and a €12,000 fine for the former agriculture minister and current Esquerra MP in the Catalan parliament, Meritxell Serret. 

Serret was Catalonia’s agriculture minister during the time of the independence push in 2017, and she was wanted by authorities for her role in the organization of the referendum. 

She is accused of disobedience for, among other acts, having approved the budget in March 2017 that provided for items for the referendum and also having signed the decree calling for the referendum despite receiving warnings from the Constitutional Court against doing so. 

After the fallout of the independence crisis in 2017, Serret went into exile in Belgium but made a surprise return in March 2021. She will be tried in the High Court of Catalonia.

In her 12-page indictment, prosecutor Neus Pujal asserts that since November 2015 at least, the Catalan government and parliament as well as pro-independence entities began the process with various different functions of achieving the independence of Catalonia.

With regard to the specific role of Serret, the prosecutor says that the current MP was minister of agriculture from the end of January 2016 and until Catalonia’s self-rule was dissolved when article 155 of the Spanish constitution was enforced in late October 2017. 

Legal case

When she set foot in Spain again, she first appeared before the Supreme Court, which decided to not provisionally detain her pending trial.

She is a party to the 2017 referendum legal case and was initially indicted for misuse of public funds, which could carry a prison sentence, as well as disobedience, which could incur a fine and disqualification from public office, but no time behind bars.

Yet, since the October 2019 verdict of the trial of the officials who remained in the country did not observe any referendum-related expenses coming from Serret's office, it is understood that she will not face a misuse of public funds charge, and therefore, prison time.

Her hearing began at 10:30 am, and some government officials gathered to support her outside the court, including interim president Pere Aragonès, government spokesperson Meritxell Budó, and the current agriculture minister, Teresa Jordà.

Pro-independence MPs of her party, Esquerra, as well as from JxCat and CUP also attended, along with some members of the Basque EH Bildu party.

"The October 1, 2017 referendum was not a crime," Aragonès said to the press outside the court.

MP for Esquerra after exile without international arrest warrant

Serret returned discreetly on March 11, driving past the Basque Country border, and went to the Supreme Court, in Madrid, before going to Catalonia.

"I am here because I maintain my commitment, I want to be an MP and exercise my political rights," she said outside the court that day.

In a statement, Serret added that she aims to "maintain the fight against the repression the independence camp is suffering and in favor of self-determination, doing politics from Catalonia and trying to pave the way for the return of the remaining political exiles."

Indeed, she had been elected a representative in Catalonia's February 14 election, after having been included in Esquerra's list of candidates at the eleventh hour, and is now a senior MP in Parliament.

Serret had been living in Brussels ever since the Catalan parliament declared independence in October 2017.

Unlike other exiled leaders such as Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín, and Clara Ponsatí, a European arrest warrant was not issued for her by Spain in the wake of the Catalan independence referendum trial verdict in October 2019. 

She did, however, face two previous extradition attempts, one of which was withdrawn by Spain's Supreme Court in December 2017 to avoid it being rejected by Belgium's courts, while the second was dismissed by Belgium for "formal errors."