Self-determination parties plead guilty in independence vote after Catalan President’s prosecution
On Friday, Spain’s Public Prosecution Office filed the criminal complaint against the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas; the Vice President, Joana Ortega; and the Education Minister, Irene Rigau. They are being prosecuted for the symbolic vote on independence that took place on November 9. Such a complaint has come with great controversy, as the Spanish Government and the People’s Party (PP) have been accused of putting pressure on the Director of the Public Prosecution Office, Eduardo Torres-Dulce, to press charges against the Catalan President. Despite the main prosecutors in Catalonia having stated there was not enough legal basis for such a complaint, Torres-Dulce announced he would press charges anyway. In response, the 6 parties that agreed to organise the original consultation vote on independence, which represent almost two thirds of the Catalan Parliament, sent a letter to Torres-Dulce and plead guilty for the organisation of November 9’s symbolic vote.
Barcelona (ACN).- On Friday, Spain’s Public Prosecution Office filed the criminal complaint against the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas; the Vice President, Joana Ortega; and the Catalan Minister for Education, Irene Rigau. They are being prosecuted for the symbolic and non-binding vote on independence from Spain that took place on November 9. Such a complaint has come with great controversy, as the Spanish Government and the People’s Party (PP) have been accused of putting pressure on the Director of the Public Prosecution Office, Eduardo Torres-Dulce, to press charges against the Catalan President. After 11 days of controversy, during which the main prosecutors in Catalonia stated there was not enough legal basis for such a complaint, Torres-Dulce announced he would press charges anyway. That the Spanish authorities should take legal action against the Catalan President and two members of the Government over the citizen participation process, in which 2.3 million citizens peacefully cast a ballot on independence, has outraged many people in Catalonia. This is likely to provoke a boomerang effect against the Spanish Government and to strengthen the Catalan President and the independence movement, with early elections on the horizon. In fact, the 6 parties that agreed to organise the original consultation vote on independence, which represent almost two thirds of the Catalan Parliament, sent a letter to Torres-Dulce on Thursday night to plead guilty in the organisation of November 9’s symbolic vote. They pointed out that the Catalan Parliament passed a motion on November 13 in which it declared itself co-responsible for such a vote, “assuming in a solemn and collective way all the legal consequences”. In addition, the motion rejected all the legal actions made against November 9’s participatory process. These parties range from the Christian-Democrats (UDC) to the alternative left (CUP), passing through Liberals (CDC), Social-Democrats (ERC), Eco-Socialists (ICV) and post-Communists (EUiA), showing the cross-party support that the symbolic vote had.
On Thursday evening, the parliamentary Spokespeople of these 6 parties – distributed in 4 parliamentary groups – sent the letter to the Director of the Public Prosecution Office in which they stated that their parliamentary groups and the Catalan Parliament were “co-authors” for authorising and organising November 9’s non-binding vote. Through the letter, they directly plead guilty, sharing the legal responsibilities that such a symbolic action represent for the Catalan President, the Vice President and the Minister for Education. The parliamentary groups were the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalitions CiU, which groups the Liberal CDC and the Christian-Democrat UDC and which runs the Catalan Government; the left-wing Catalan independence party ERC; the Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist coalition ICV-EUiA; and, the alternative left and radical independence party CUP.
“These parliamentary groups report that the Catalan Parliament is assuming all the responsibilities that could derive from holding such a participatory process”. In addition, the political parties “admit to ordering and to being the co-authors of the actions with which the members of the Catalan Government are charged; for the organisation and execution of the afore-mentioned democratic process”, reads the letter.
Torres-Dulce formally prosecutes Mas, Ortega and Rigau for 4 felonies
Despite the controversy of the last few days and the letter sent by the 6 Catalan parties, on Friday morning, the Public Prosecution Office has followed Torres-Dulce’s plan. The criminal complaint has been filed by Catalonia’s Supreme Court (TSJC), since it goes against members of the Catalan Government. In fact, the document was signed by Torres-Dulce’s delegate in Catalonia, José María Romero de Tejada, who directs the TSJC’s Public Prosecution Office and reports to his boss based in Madrid and who is directly appointed by the Spanish Government. It is because of the hierarchical nature of the Public Prosecution body that Romero de Tejada is signing the complaint despite his having publicly stated on Monday there was not enough legal basis to press charges against the 3 members of the Catalan Government.
Mas, Ortega and Rigau are accused of the same 4 felonies: “severe disobedience” for not having respected the temporary suspension of the Constitutional Court, “usurpation of duties” for having authorised a “hidden referendum” despite not having had the powers to do so, “perversion of a legal process” for carrying out a public administration process in the knowledge it had been temporarily suspended by the Constitutional Court, and “embezzlement of public funds” for having used public money and resources for the vote.
However, many legal experts have stated over the last few days that there is not enough legal basis for such accusations. Firstly, November 9’s non-binding participation process had been temporarily suspended by the Constitutional Court on November 4 but the Court refused to directly tell Mas he could not organise it, as the Spanish Government had directly requested in its appeal. On top of this, the Constitutional Court did not issue a first warning despite the Catalan Government having stated that the vote would take place anyway, neither did it answer Mas’ appeal and request for further explanations before November 9. According to Spanish legislation, in order “to disobey” a court, the court has to have sent a reminder or a warning in addition to the original verdict, which was not the case.
Secondly, the vote was not “a hidden referendum” but “a citizen participation process”, which the Catalan Government has the powers organise. On top of this, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, publicly said the day before the vote that “it is neither a referendum nor a consultation vote”. Thirdly, it is hard to argue that Mas, Ortega and Rigau committed “embezzlement” by using public resources for a process in which 2.3 million citizens participated, a turnout which clearly shows the public interest of such a process and the convenience of allocating some public funds for its development. Furthermore, these funds were exclusively used for the citizen participatory process and they are not accused of having stolen any part of these funds.
Finally, “perversion of a legal process” requires public officers to have consciously made an unfair decision, for instance in the verdict of a judicial process or a public tender. Such an accusation does not seem appropriate for a citizen participation process run by volunteers, in which Mas, Ortega and Rigau did not manipulate the results, as was certified by an international delegation formed of members of the European Parliament and other parliamentary chambers.