Handling of parliament speaker's alleged corruption case highlights differences between government partners

Catalan president considers Laura Borràs’ case to be "very different" from pro-independence political activities that are under investigation

Parliament speaker Laura Borràs during a chamber session on July 6, 2022 (by Marta Sierra)
Parliament speaker Laura Borràs during a chamber session on July 6, 2022 (by Marta Sierra) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

July 11, 2022 06:48 PM

The coalition government is at odds with how the Catalan parliament speaker, Laura Borràs, alleged corruption case should be handled. The senior coalition partner, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) said they would remove a party member with charges against them from office until proven innocent, while Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), the junior member, said the accusations against Borràs are but Spain’s repression.

The corruption allegations "against Laura Borràs are very different from those [relating to pro-independence political activities] that are being investigated by the High Court," Catalan president Pere Aragonès said in an interview with Spanish Onda Cero radio.

"What I can say is what we at ERC would do. The importance of the role would prevail and the person would be pushed to take a step aside," he added. "We would defend its innocence, and if the trial freed her from all charges, she would retake her role again," he added.

Asked about it, Aragonès did not specify if it was a corruption case, but he mentioned criminal acts "are what they are" regardless if the complaint is true or false. 

On the other hand, Josep Rius, the spokesperson from JxCat responded to Aragonès acknowledging that they both agree on "the importance of the institutions, and that would mean defending presumption of innocence and avoiding any Spanish courts’ interference," he said. 

Recently, Laura Borràs rejected resigning in order to, in her words, defend the "chamber’s dignity," as she said on July 3 following requests from the opposition. This also comes after senior coalition partner Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya asked to preserve the Parliament’s dignity.

The politician has been recently indicted by Catalonia’s High Court (TSJC) for supposedly favoring a friend in a public tender, for which she is accused of having committed an administrative breach of official duty, administrative fraud, falsification of a commercial document, and misuse of public funds during her time as the head of the Institute of Catalan Letters.

Borràs is expected to face trial for the case, and before magistrates set the date, she will learn the public prosecutor's proposed sentence, which could carry time in prison - the prosecutor could also ask for other proceedings to be carried out before the trial or to shelve the case, while the defense can still appeal the indictment before the same court.

Accused of splitting contracts to avoid tenders

Borràs was appointed director of the Institute of Catalan Letters (ILC), a public body in charge of promoting Catalan literature, on January 15, 2013.

Between March 2013 and February 2017, the ILC awarded, "through its director," 18 minor contracts related to its website, for a total value of €330,000, in which Borràs "intervened", "proposing and awarding the contract, approving the expenditure, certifying the execution of the service, issuing the corresponding invoice and finally authorizing the payment," according to the judge's decree published on March 14.

Of these contracts, six were awarded to Isaías H., for a total of €112,500, and one to Andreu P.M., for €20,050. Both men are also charged. Six contracts were also awarded to Xarxa Integral for €101,035 and three to Freelance for €54,437, two groups Isaías H was a member of.

The contracts amounted to a total of €330,000, of which the ILC paid out €309,000 in the end. 

Shortly have being appointed director of the ILC, Borràs introduced Isaías H. to staff as head of the website. The two exchanged emails about invoices and contracts, concluding that the same vendor could not file invoices for different items in the same year and that they therefore had to "knock on doors" to bill different names and to avoid exceeding the €18,000 maximum for minor contracts.

At the time, public contracts in Catalonia over €18,000 had to be put to tender. The court alleges that Borràs fraudulently split a larger payment into smaller contracts in order to be able to choose who would be awarded the work, and to avoid a public tender process. 

Borràs denies allegations

Borràs has always denied the allegations and said they are a result of a "dirty war" led by Spain against the main pro-independence figures.

On June 4, she was appointed as co-president of her political party, the pro-independence Junts per Catalunya, replacing former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in the post. 

Just over a year earlier, she was appointed Catalan parliament speaker after becoming an MP as a result of the February 14, 2021 election. 

Borràs could lose her post as speaker when trial is confirmed

Yet, her seat – and, therefore, her post as leader of the chamber – may be put in question as a result of this judicial case. 

According to Article 25.4 of the Catalan parliament's regulations, in the event an MP is accused of corruption, "the bureau has to suspend their parliamentary rights and duties immediately" when the trial is announced and no appeals are possible – this is not the case yet, but if, as expected, the prosecutor requests to proceed and the defense loses their appeal against the indictment, Borràs will officially be sent to the dock. 

At the moment, Junts has two out of the seven seats in the parliament bureau, with its senior partner in government, the fellow pro-independence party Esquerra, having two more. The Socialists have two and far-left pro-independence CUP have one.