Spanish authorities at odds over funding of referendum

Supreme Court asks treasury to clarify claims that no public money was used for vote, while opposition calls for resignations

A ballot box on October 1 2017 (by Carles Palacio / ACN)
A ballot box on October 1 2017 (by Carles Palacio / ACN) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 20, 2018 12:16 PM

How much did the October 1 referendum on independence cost, and who paid for it? These questions have led to a rift between the Spanish government and the judiciary, while the main unionist opposition party in Catalonia has turned its fire from the pro-independence parties to the ruling People’s Party (PP) in Madrid. Treasury minister Cristóbal Montoro’s insistence that no public money was spent on the vote led Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena to ask for clarification, as he is overseeing the prosecution of pro-independence leaders for misuse of public funds. Albert Rivera, the head of the Ciudadanos (Cs) party, wants resignations.

The Spanish government and president Mariano Rajoy have come out in support of the treasury minister after Montoro said in a newspaper interview on Monday that “not a cent” of public money had been used to pay for the referendum. The Spanish government also insisted that the burden of proof lies with the courts, with sources for the executive saying “it is the judiciary that should show if there has been misuse of public funds.” Meanwhile, Rajoy told Rivera that he had “got the wrong enemy” and advised him to “focus attention on the pro-independence parties rather than the government.”

Yet, Cs refuse to be brushed off and Rivera insisted on Thursday that “someone should resign for lying.” Also, the leader of Cs in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas, called for Montoro to appear in the Spanish parliament to explain the contradiction. “There is evidence from judicial and police investigations to suggest a crime was committed,” she said, alluding to a report by Spanish police putting the amount of public money used to fund the referendum at 1.9 million euros. Arrimadas also pointed out that the alleged misuse of funds goes beyond paying out public cash, and includes the use of facilities and work done by public servants.

While the misuse of public funds in the push for independence is a main pillar of the case against pro-independence leaders, the treasury is keen to show its handling of Catalonia’s finances has been impeccable. The Spanish government began taking control of public finances in Catalonia in the summer, and by September the treasury ministry was in total charge of the country’s accounts. Yet, a PP spokeswoman put forward an explanation for the contradiction, suggesting that while the ministry paid all of the bills, the Catalan government may have had access to other sources of public money “which were not monitored.”

However, the pro-independence parties deny any public money was used for the bid to secede from Spain. On Thursday, for example, Esquerra MP and former Catalan minister Ernest Maragall told the press he is “convinced” that public subsidies provided to the Junts pel Sí pro-independence coalition were not used to pay for an event in Catalonia’s national theater in July to promote the independence referendum, as Spanish police allege. Maragall also questioned the accusations of misuse of public funds in general: “Two million euros? There were two million voters. That’s for sure. The rest is the State’s interest in going ahead with proceedings against the October 1 vote,” he said.