The judicial process goes on. This Monday, 20th January sees the start of another of the trials stemming from the events around Catalonia's 2017 independence referendum. After last October's sentences against pro-independence political and civil leaders, Spanish justice is now putting the Catalan police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, in the dock: former Mossos chief Josep Lluís Trapero and police superintendent Teresa Laplana, along with two senior Catalan interior ministry officials responsible for the Mossos, César Puig and Pere Soler. They are accused, on the one hand, of allowing the protest on 20th September 2017 in front of the Catalan economy ministry whilst a search was taking place inside and, on the other, of not preventing the independence referendum on 1st October that year.
All eyes in Madrid's National Audience court are likely to be on chief Trapero. For the first time, the highest-ranking Mossos officer will sit in the dock, accused of two counts of rebellion, swept up in the judicial tsunami against the Catalan government which held the 2017 referendum.
Facing 11 years' prison for rebellion
The public prosecution service is demanding 11 years in prison for Trapero, Soler and Puig for crimes of rebellion, and 4 years for Laplana for sedition. The public prosecutors argue that the Mossos d'Esquadra plan devised by its police heads and political leadership to stop the referendum was "dismissed as ineffective" by Civil Guard colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos, who at that time was the judicially-designated coordinator of the police operation to halt the vote. "However, the Mossos did not make any changes to the designed plan," the prosecution alleges.
Prosecutors will have their work cut out to make their rebellion accusation prosper, given that Spain's Supreme Court has already convicted the Mossos' highest political boss, former Catalan interior minister Quim Forn, for the lesser crime of sedition in a very similar case. The indictment could, however, be changed by the public prosecutors, either at the start of the trial's first session, or before their summing up is presented, at the end of the trial.
The defence demands the acquittal of all four accused. The police chief's lawyer, Olga Tubau, affirms that Trapero "never" put the Mossos at the service of "secessionist political interests" and that he "did not participate, intervene or share in" the plan which, according to the accusation, was devised by the Catalan government and parliament to achieve independence and the proclamation of the Catalan republic. Trapero, claims the defence, neither participated in nor was aware of documents that the prosecution considers to be key, such as the slide presentation entitled Enfocats. The 47 pages of the defence's written pre-trial submission describe all the steps taken by the Mossos chief to adhere to court orders and justify the force's operations on the critical days in autumn 2017, just as Trapero did personally when he testified as a witness in last year's Supreme Court trial.
The defence of the former Mossos head also asserts that the coordinator of the referendum police operation, colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos, never showed "distrust" of the Mossos nor said that the plan was "inoperative or inadequate" to fulfill the court order to stop the referendum. And it documents that Trapero had a plan ready two days before October 27th - day of the proclamation of independence and imposition of Article 155 - to arrest Puigdemont if requested by the judicial authorities.
24 sessions and 104 witnesses
The first week of the trial will begin with preliminary questions and opening addresses from the lawyers. Then the declarations of the accused Teresa Laplana, Josep Lluís Trapero, Pere Soler and César Puig will be heard.
Then comes the turn of the witnesses: for 24 court sessions, 104 witnesses will be heard at the trial, and this will occupy the largest part of the trial's two-month schedule. Witnesses include Oriol Junqueras, Joaquim Forn and Jordi Sànchez, three of the pro-independence leaders imprisoned for sedition in the Supreme Court trial; they could testify by videoconference and thus avoid a trip to the National Audience court in Madrid. Also summonsed to appear are former Catalan president Artur Mas and the ex-interior ministers Jordi Jané and Montserrat Tura, along with former Catalan interior ministry official and current head of policing for Barcelona city council, Albert Batlle. In addition, almost all of the most senior level of Mossos officers and especially those in command during the events of 2017 will appear in court. Mossos commissioner Ferran López and Civil Guard colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos will open the hearing of witnesses, likely to raise the tension of a trial that comes with jurisprudence already laid down from the earlier Supreme Court trial on the 2017 mobilizations and the crime of rebellion.
The precedent of the Supreme Court trial
Last year, the Supreme Court rejected the offence of rebellion with regard to the events of October 2017, but the public prosecutors have maintained this accusation in the indictment. As they also did, until the very end, in the trial of the 12 political and civil pro-independence leaders last year. That is why the four Mossos administrators are accused of this crime. But the Supreme Court decision marks a turning point.
Trapero's 2019 testimony
Josep Lluís Trapero broke his silence on March 14th last year at the leaders' trial, where he testified as a witness. There, he readily admitted in questioning that the Mossos were prepared to arrest the members of the Catalan government at the time that independence was proclaimed and that each police commissioner had a minister assigned to him. "We had an operation ready if the president or ministers were to be arrested, if we had been ordered to do this," he said, after explaining that he had put himself at the disposition of the public prosecutors and judiciary on October 27th, the day scheduled for the unilateral declaration of Catalonia's independence.
Trapero spoke frankly with statements that were at times critical of his former political superiors, saying that then-Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn had made irresponsible statements, even if he never gave a direct order to the Mossos to do anything illegal. He said that the image thus given of the Catalan police force had led to the charges against its commanders, including Trapero himself. We'll see if he repeats this statement in his own trial.