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Prosecutors investigate whether Catalan government can help former officials pay €5.4 M fine

Complaint from unionist party prompts inquiry into administration’s attempt to act as financial guarantor

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28 July 2021 04:01 PM

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ACN|Barcelona

Public prosecutors are investigating whether the Catalan government’s bid to help former officials pay a 5.4-million euro fine for promoting independence abroad is legal.

Accused of illicitly using public money from 2011 to 2017 to advance pro-independence interests, 34 people —including former presidents and ministers— risk having their assets seized if Spain’s Court of Auditors rejects the administration’s attempt to act as financial guarantor through the Catalan Finance Institute (ICF).

On Wednesday, the public prosecutor’s office accepted a complaint filed by the unionist Ciudadanos (Cs) party, which accused the government of misusing public funds and of breaching official duty. This comes a day after the Court of Auditors itself expressed "doubts."

While Cs also pressed charges against president Pere Aragonès and ministers Laura Vilagrà and Jaume Giró, prosecutors have ruled out investigating them as the High Court of Catalonia has yet to decide whether it will consider a previous lawsuit filed by far-right Vox.

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 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 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 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 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 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. 

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  • Cs party leader in Catalonia, Carlos Carrizosa, holding up the complaint he filed in the High Court (by Arnald Prat)

  • Cs party leader in Catalonia, Carlos Carrizosa, holding up the complaint he filed in the High Court (by Arnald Prat)

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