Court of Auditors claims €5.4m from Catalan former officials over independence push

Puigdemont, Junqueras, Mas and Mas-Colell among politicians facing largest sums

From left to right, former vice president Oriol Junqueras, former president Carles Puigdemont, and former president Artur Mas (by Patricia Mateos)
From left to right, former vice president Oriol Junqueras, former president Carles Puigdemont, and former president Artur Mas (by Patricia Mateos) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

June 29, 2021 11:04 AM

Spain’s Court of Auditors is claiming 5.4m from around 40 former Catalan government officials for promoting the independence push abroad from 2011 to 2017.

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 international 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 declared independence.

In all, some 40 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 last week by the Spanish government, such as 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 secretary-general of Diplocat, 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 being requested to pay large sums of money include former presidency minister Francesc Homs, fined €2.9 millions, and former foreign action minister Raül Romeva, who is being held accountable for €2.1 millions worth of public money. 

33 Nobel Prize winners against Court of Auditors' case

The tribunal considers that the executive spent public money abroad to promote Catalonia’s attempt to split with Spain and deem that around 40 politicians and figures should be held personally liable for this, among them former minister Andreu Mas-Colell, who has received a wave of global support including that of 33 Nobel Prize winners

letter of support published on June 22 in the newspaper 'El País' is signed by 33 Nobel Prize winners including Joseph Stiglitz, Gorge Akerlof, Robert Aumann, Angus Deaton, Esther Duflo and Eugene Fama.

Around 20 other world-class economists also signed the text, which included calling the open procedure against the retired professor "unfair."

"We are deeply concerned about the news and the situation of professor Andreu Mas-Colell," they say. The prestigious economists remind that the 18,000-page document of accusations to the officials do not include his connection with the independence push.

"Those who have been in touch with professor Mas-Colell for several years as colleagues, students and co-authors know he is a person with full integrity," the letter reads. "The result of this procedure could have a negative impact on the will [of scientists] to return to their countries and contribute to the public service," they say. Mas-Colell had been professor abroad before returning to Catalonia.

Indeed, he is a world-leading microeconomist and formerly the Louis Berkman Professor of Economics at Harvard. He also founded the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics and served as the head of the Department of Economics and Business at Universitat de Pompeu Fabra during his career, before becoming economy minister.