A poisonous trial. The first session of the trial of leading Catalan politician Laura Borràs, her friend the IT specialist, Isaías Herrero, and his friend, Andreu Pujol, over alleged improper management practices at the Institute of Catalan Letters (ILC) from 2013 to 2017, has begun with a confrontation between defence lawyers, this Friday in the High Court of Catalonia (TSJC). Isabel Elbal - who together with Gonzalo Boye, is conducting the defence of the suspended Catalan parliamentary speaker and Junts party president - requested the suspension of the trial due to an infringement of the right to a legal defence, asserting that the other two defendants "reached an accord with public prosecutors to accuse Borràs" of the crime, improperly dividing up work contracts. At the end of the hearing, the president judge, Jesús María Barrientos, agreed to give Borràs's defence more time, and thus next Tuesday, February 14th, a second session of preliminary questions will be held in order to study the documentation presented by the prosecutors.
At the beginning of this week, it emerged that Herrero had reached a plea bargain agreement with the prosecutors, agreeing to plead guilty and accuse Borràs of instructing him to divide up the work on the institution's website into 18 contracts, for a total of 309,000 euros. The prosecutor Assumpta Pujol told the hearing that "there is no agreement formalized" and introduced changes in the indictment for all three of those charged, although not in the penalties requested: 6 years in prison and a 21-year ban on public employment for Borràs and Herrero for the crimes of document falsification and abuse of authority. And for Pujol, 3 years' prison for the same two crimes. Marina Roig, Herrerro's lawyer, regretted the "instrumentalization" made by Borràs's defence and stated that "she is also exercising the right of defence" and did not want to venture into controversy with her.
Defences that are "prosecutions"
At the beginning of the trial, the president of the court, judge Jesús María Barrientos, rejected the request by Borràs's defence to take part last in the whole sequence of prosecutors and defence lawyers in order to guarantee her right to a defence, although he added that in the next sessions of the trial he will decide if he changes the order in which the parties take part. Isabel Elbal reiterated that the two other defences are now "co-accusers" and that they have been "compensated, given benefits and paid" by the public prosecutors. Elbal even accused Herrero's defence lawyer of violating Borràs's defence because "they were coordinated for three years, having contacts with relatives and a joint expert witness to avoid the misuse of funds charge, which in the end was dropped, and now the defence is a procusation". For this reason, she requested the suspension of the trial - firstly, in order to be able to provide evidence of this agreement, "if the lawyer's professional body gives him the dispensation to be able to speak" and break the code of ethics, and secondly, to provide defence evidence that the other defences "don't know". Àlex Solà, Pujol's lawyer, regretted the tone of Borràs's defense, but did not object to them taking part last in the sequence. Roig, however, did not accept it and requested through the court that Borràs's defence should "not address them as co-accused".
The TSJC, "not the competent court"
Isabel Elbal asserted that "Laura Borràs will not have a fair trial". And in addition to the suspension, the lawyer affirmed that the TSJC is not the competent court to try Borràs because she no longer holds the protected status that would prevent her case from being heard in a an ordinary-level court, as, in July, the Bureau of the Catalan Parliament suspended her from her duties when her case was sent to trial, "despite the fact that there was no crime of corruption". She also argued that Parliament "violated" her presumption of innocence as had some politicians and indicated "the ERC spokesperson", Marta Vilalta. Elbal also insisted that the emails intercepted from Herrero were "illegally" obtained. Nearly 400 people came to the doors of the TSJC as Laura Borràs entered to support her.
Case is "prescribed", for Borràs and Pujol
As for the other defence lawyers, Marina Roig also asserted that the TSJC is not competent to judge Isaías Herrero, in addition to exposing that there are "vulnerabilities" in the procedure, such as the telephone monitoring of the IT expert, and that there is no judicial interlocutory decree on the sub judice status of the ILC case.
The Institute's case began as a secret inquiry in the court of Manresa, which investigated Herrero in November 2017 for drug trafficking and currency counterfeiting, for which he was sentenced to 5 years in prison, with his entry into prison being suspended. For his part, Àlex Solà stated that "the case is prescribed" for Borràs and Pujol because the judge did not extend the investigation at the time.
"All three are innocent"
Prosecutor Teresa Duerto rejected the preliminary questions raised by the three defence teams. "Borràs, Herrero and Pujol are innocent until there is a verdict", said Duerto, who added that "the right to the presumption of innocence" of Borràs has not been violated. "The trial is held here and public statements do not influence the court", said the prosecutor. The representative of the prosecution service also denied that Borràs' right to defence has been violated, despite the fact that there is a basis for an agreement between Herrero and the prosecutors.
Duerto did not object to exiled Catalan ex-minister Lluís Puig testifying as a witness for Borràs, and which the court - divided - initially rejected after asserting that being "a fugitive from justice, it is not appropriate". The prosecutor, however, did not admit the evidence from the expert witness that Elbal had requested, relating to the misuse of funds, to demonstrate that this crime was carried out jointly with Herrero. Duerto insisted that she does not consider the right to a defence has been violated.
"It's scary!" warns Boye
Gonzalo Boye took part at the end of the hearing and asked the court for more time to be able to analyze the documentation provided by the prosecutors in the hearing, which he described as "disordered". Boye also insisted that there was information he did not have: he "doesn't know what the prosecutors office's indeterminate procedures 42/21 are, which makes demands on Borràs", provided in the hearing this Friday, and denounced that Borràs's "right to a defence" was breached. "It's scary that we have reached the trial without knowing what the prosecutor has done", and he asked for this documentary to be not admitted or for more time to analyze it.
In the end, the president of the TSJC agreed to give more time to the defence, and the trial will resume on February 14th at 12 noon in the TSJC with more time for preliminary questions. Initially, the trial was scheduled to resume on February 20th - a later date, but with the testimonies by the defendants.