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French newspaper Le Monde has today dismantled the theory of misuse of public funds for last year's Catalan referendum, explaining the participation of French residents in the process of acquiring the ballot boxes and voting slips. Whilst Spanish police and Civil Guard were looking for them in Catalonia, the ballot boxes were coming from Marseilles and the voting slips were being printed in French Catalonia.

According to the paper, in a report called In Catalonia, the ballot boxes came from the north, the referendum "owed a lot, directly and indirectly, to the French". "France was used as the rear base for Catalan independence supporters in the months of August and September 2017," they write. The newspaper has spoken to Laia Vicenc, who along with Xavi Tedó wrote a book called Operació Urnes ("Operation Ballot Boxes", untranslated), including her reporting.

They note that those involved in France, in northern Catalonia, don't want to talk about the preparations, nor the "clandestine operation", which allowed them to transport 10,000 Chinese plastic ballot boxes with the Catalan government's shield to the 2,234 polling stations without being detected by Spanish intelligence.

Le Monde reports that a Catalan businessperson, calling themselves Lluís, told the book's authors that he paid for the ballot boxes from his own pocket at the end of June, at a cost of 100,000 euros (£90,000, $120,000). Ordered from China by someone from Perpignan, they arrived in Marseilles 25 days later. Curious customs officers apparently accepted his explanation that "they were to be used to make the world's largest pyramid of plastic boxes".

Loaded onto three lorries, the ballot boxes were then taken to warehouse near Elne, from where they were slowly distributed around Catalonia. The voting slips were printed somewhere near the warehouse. "The clandestine, pyramid structure avoided the secret being uncovered," they say.

The newspaper ends by suggesting the support of the French rearguard could be called upon again. "Quim Torra is going to pursue the path of independence", they quote a sympathiser as saying, "he could very well need us...".