Laura Borràs suspended as parliament speaker over corruption charges
Parliament bureau votes to remove politician sent to trial for alleged irregular contracts
Laura Borràs was suspended from her post as both parliament speaker and MP on Thursday afternoon as she faces corruption charges. The chamber bureau has voted to remove the Catalan politician who will be sent to trial for alleged irregular contracts.
The now former parliament speaker was suspended after bureau members from Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the Socialist party, and far-left CUP voted in favor of applying Article 25.4 which states that any member of the chamber sent to trial on corruption charges must be suspended. Borràs is accused of administrative fraud and falsification of a commercial document.
This is the first time in history that a parliament speaker, the second highest political rank in Catalonia, has been removed from their post.
Soon after the news broke, Laura Borràs held a press conference in which she condemned the decision.
"Five MPs dressed up as hypocritical judges, came to the Parliament today," she said in a reference to the five members of the parliament bureau who voted in favor of applying article 25.4.
Regarding the chamber’s legislation, Borràs considers that "the article does not force anyone to resign, as it is a voluntary gesture. I do not resign, today I have been suspended and it has been done against my will," she told reporters.
"I have never asked to be acquitted, I only wanted to not be considered guilty before going on trial. They wanted to quickly sentence me without valuing any other options," Borràs added.
"They have urged for my resignation with the excuse of preserving the institution. An excuse to disguise the intention to make a political adversary disappear," the suspended parliament speaker condemned.
Despite the comments from Borràs, the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, said that "these are very specific and very clear facts. We are dealing with a case of alleged corruption."
On a similar note, Aragonès' party, ERC, considered that their "project for the Catalan independence has no room for corruption," Marta Vilalta, the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the People's Party, said they do not "care much about these fratricide battles between Esquerra and Junts, but what we cannot allow is for our institutions to be their battlefield," Lorena Roldan shared.
Laura Borràs's replacement
The chamber’s regulation states that the replacement of the parliament speaker should be the first vice president. In this case, the post is occupied by former health minister Alba Vergés, a member of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party.
"In the case of a vacancy, absence or impossibility, vice presidents in consecutive order, should be the ones to replace the president with the same rights, functions, and work conditions," the regulation reads.
This replacement could create a conflict as Esquerra and Junts both agreed to split the different political leadership positions when they formed a coalition government. While the Catalan president is a member of the ERC party, the vice president and parliament speaker are members of Junts per Catalunya.
However, ERC has already announced they are waiting for Junts to propose a candidate.
"We are willing to talk with Junts and listen to their proposals," Marta Vilalta said.
Support from party members
Before the parliament bureau reached its decision, Laura Borràs, met with members of her party, Junts per Catalunya, the junior coalition partner in the Catalan government. The politician hugged her daughter and former president Quim Torra, who went to the chamber to show their support.
In fact, the former leader announced that the "decision is clear," when asked before the Parliament vote if JxCat should leave the government if Borràs were to be suspended.
"What Junts needs to think about is that, if the group’s president is suspended, and the party does not believe she should, it all leads to a clear decision," he added.
Torra, however, did not answer any other questions from journalists.
Demonstration in favor of Borràs
Over 300 people demonstrated at the Parliament's doors to show their support for Laura Borràs early on Thursday morning.
The group was welcomed by the politician before she entered the building. Demonstrators assert her "innocence" and claim the trial is "fake."
Some of the protestors even chanted against senior coalition partner Esquerra Republicana and CUP party, as well as media outlets onsite.
ERC later denounced in the afternoon that their party MP Najat Driouech was verbally attacked by supporters from Borràs.
According to sources quoted by the Catalan News Agency, some protestors chanted "Fucking Moor!" when Driouech left the building.
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 the 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.