Josep Lluís Trapero, chief of the Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra police, has always maintained the separation of powers between the Mossos and the Catalan government. To the point of revealing, in a powerful testimony at the Catalan independence trial this Thursday, that at a key moment in the 2017 events, the police force he led was completely prepared to arrest president Carles Puigdemont and his ministers.
"We had a team at the ready in case the president or the ministers had to be arrested, if that had been ordered," he said, explaining that he had put the Mossos at the disposition of the public prosecution service and the Catalan high court on the 27th October, 2017, the day when the proclamation of Catalonia's independence was scheduled.
Under Trapero's plan that day, each commissioner of the force would arrest one member of the Catalan government if an order to do so arrived from the justice authorities.
In a testimony that went on almost all day in Spain's Supreme Court, Trapero was rock-solid and at some points caused discomfort for his former political boss, Joaquim Forn, saying that the ex-Catalan interior minister had made irresponsible statements, although he tempered this, stressing that Forn did not give any direct order nor did he task the Mossos with anything that was illegal.
Nevertheless, he asserted that the impression given of the Mossos' actions was what led the Mossos leadership, among them Trapero himself, to now be facing rebellion and sedition charges - which are to be heard in a subsequent trial. This came up in answer to questions from Forn's defence lawyer, Xavier Melero.
Judge Manuel Marchena had earlier, on procedural grounds, denied the prosecution the right to ask about the key pre-referendum meeting with Catalan government figures on September 28th, 2017. But in the end, it was the judge himself who, citing legal justification, asked about the meeting. And Trapero answered in the same way as had previous Mossos witnesses, commissioners Manel Castellví and Emíli Quevedo. The chief explained that he warned of "serious conflicts affecting public order and the safety of citizens. We insisted that they [the political leadership] had to comply with legality. We told them that we would comply with the law and that they should not be mistaken about us."
And he continued: "We did not support the independence project. We were annoyed by statements made by political representatives," referring to minister Forn and also to Catalan government spokesperson Jordi Turull. And he added that "we were being put in a position in which we ran personal risks."
Trapero denied that the Catalan government gave orders or guidelines to the Mossos at the pre-referendum meetings on September 26th and 28th: "They told us, 'Do the work you have to do.' And he also denied that Forn gave any direct order to the Catalan police commanders.
The Mossos police chief, later stripped of his command when the Spanish government imposed direct rule over Catalonia at the end of October 2017, also specified the three moments in the build-up to the October 1st vote when the coordination between the force he led and the two Spanish police bodies, the Civil Guard and the National Police, broke down. And he places the responsibility for this directly in the hands of Civil Guard colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos, coordinator of the security operation against the Catalan independence referendum.
Trapero recounted: "On October 1st, early in the morning when we saw a series of actions taking place which we hadn't asked for, commissioner Ferran Lopez called colonel Pérez de los Cobos and asked about them. The response was that he didn't know and would call us back. He never did."
"The next thing," continued the Mossos chief, "was at 10am when Ferran went to the coordination meeting, and returned almost immediately saying that they other two police heads weren't there and they had called off the meeting and subsequent meetings. Then at 12 o'clock, I asked for a meeting with Pérez de los Cobos. In those three moments, we saw that the coordination was not the way we agreed it, and we didn't really know the reasons."
The effort was the maximum the Mosso could make and the most historic thing the force had done
But in much of his witness examination, he had focused on refuting the claims of a rebellion and the risk of violence or an uprising.
"In general, we believed that people would carry out some sort of passive resistance to police actions but our report indicated that at some points, groups participating in protests were expected to go a little beyond passive resistance," said Josep Lluís Trapero to questions from the prosecutor on the risks report presented by Mossos commissioner Manel Castellví.
Trapero also explained that the Government had been told that if the referendum went ahead, "we would find ourselves with 2 million people who had the intention of doing something and about 15,000 police officers who were going in the opposite direction" and that this necessarily would cause "problems of public order and citizen security". However, the Mossos chief estimated that the risk was limited to about forty voting centres.
The prosecutor asked Trapero about the more radical groups mentioned in the Castellví report. "They were groups that had taken part in demonstrations, they are as they are defined in the report," said the chief, without wanting to refer directly to the CDR groups or the so-called "Revolutionary Independence" groups mentioned in the report. "I'm not a specialist. What the report provides is the evaluation made by our information commission," he concluded.
He also referred in his testimony to guidelines on the use of police force by the Mossos. "The use of force was to be limited to particular situations. In response to attacks on police officers or on a third party. The guideline we gave was to act calmly. That we should be especially careful with the use of force." This was Trapero's order to the Mossos, and it was this which the operation coordinator Diego Pérez de los Cobos rejected. Trapero recounts: "Pérez de los Cobos said that this must not be an excuse to facilitate the vote. And that is something I found personally offensive".
Trapero explained that the public were informed that the Mossos would appear at the polling stations at six in the morning as a dissuasive measure. But the measure didn't work.
The days before
"They [the other police forces] went to the schools as we did. They saw what it was," said Trapero, about the so-called 'Open Schools' activities that were held at the polling stations on the two days before the referendum, a legal activity which meant the centres could not be closed down by police in advance.
"We did not confiscate electoral material because we didn't find any. We didn't find ballot boxes. We didn't find anything ourselves and nor did they," said Trapero, explaining that none of the three police bodies took any action when the Open Schools activities began.
On the 30th September, the day before the Catalan referendum, commissioner Ferran López met Pérez de los Cobos and commented that the schools were in use. "Nobody then said: 'Hey Mossos, what are you doing?'", explained Trapero. And he repeated: "The judicial order did not allow the closing of schools where those activities were being carried out."
Josep Lluís Trapero recounted the events at the meeting between the heads of all three police forces in the Catalan high court. And he detailed what the judge Mercedes Armas told all of them at that meeting: "Act with patience, restraint and guarantee the social peace at all times." "I conveyed this to commissioner Gàmez and when the guidelines for action were created on 28th September I asked for these elements to appear because the judge had asked for it," he added, arguing that the objectives were "to comply with the court order taking into account what the judge had said".
"Did you comply with the order?", prosecutor Javier Zaragoza asked. And Trapero responded: "The Mossos? In every way we could".
20th September protest
"From the very start we said that we were not in a position to remove the Civil Guard vehicles," said Trapero to questions from the state solicitor about the 20th September, 2017 protest outside the Catalan economy ministry. And he also specified that there was no perception of any problem with public order and that the protest was authorized.