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Government still seeking guarantor to face €5.4m fine imposed on former officials

Two-week deadline given by Spain’s Court of Auditors due to expire on Wednesday

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20 July 2021 02:10 PM

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ACN | Barcelona

The Catalan government said on Tuesday it is still seeking a financial guarantor to help former officials face a €5.4m fine imposed by Spain’s Court of Auditors for promoting the independence bid internationally.

With only a few hours to go before a 15-day deadline expires on Wednesday, 34 former officials, including ex-presidents Carles Puigdemont and Artur Mas, risk having their assets seized to pay for the multi-million euro fine.

In response to the ruling, the Catalan government, which remains under control of pro-independence parties, announced it would set up a risk fund of €10 million to cover fines such as those handed out by the Court of Auditors.

However, no bank has so far accepted acting as a financial guarantor of the fund, as confirmed by Finance minister Jaume Giró.

  • "The government has done, is doing, and will do everything in its power to ease this profoundly unjust burden"

    Jaume Giró · Economy and Finance minister

"As of today, the first financial institutions we’ve contacted, with significant operations in Catalonia, have not greenlighted the operation," said Giró in a press conference. He ruled out unveiling the name of the banks that had been contacted. (Giró himself is the former CEO of Caixabank, founded in Catalonia and which became Spain’s largest lender last March following a merger with Bankia.)

Catalan authorities are not planning on resorting to the Catalan Institute of Finances nor any other public institution to cover the fines. Giró says that the government doesn’t want to put any public servant "at risk."

Asked on why he thought no bank had agreed to act as guarantor, Giró blamed the "short" deadline given by the Court of Auditors and the "noise" surrounding the operation.

"The government has done, is doing, and will do everything in its power to ease this profoundly unjust burden," said Giró.

Political parties to pay for fines

Catalonia's two ruling pro-independence parties are expected to cover the largest part of the fines on behalf of the former officials, which include the party leaders themselves.

The secretary-general of Junts per Catalunya, Jordi Sànchez, sent a letter to party members asking for donations, accusing Spanish institutions of "pressuring banks" into rejecting the deal, and suggesting that an international bank may act as guarantor.

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 international 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 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 last week by the Spanish government, such as 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 secretary-general of Diplocat, 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 being requested to pay large sums of money include former presidency minister Francesc Homs, fined €2.9 millions, and former foreign action minister Raül Romeva, who is being held accountable for €2.1 millions worth of public money. 

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  • The Economy and Finance minister of the Catalan government, Jaume Giró (by Arnald Prat)

  • The Economy and Finance minister of the Catalan government, Jaume Giró (by Arnald Prat)

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