An agreement has been reached at this Monday's parliamentary meeting on the wording of the reform of the Spanish crime of misuse of public funds. The meeting between party representatives was over in less than an hour, and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) ended up accepting the position of the governing Spanish Socialists (PSOE) regarding the pursuit of cases similar to that of Catalonia's independence referendum of 1st October 2017: a prison sentence of one to four years in prison for officials who allocate public funds to a purpose which was not foreseen. The amendment also provides for a ban on holding office for the official, for a period of two to six years.
The text establishes as a requirement for a prison sentence to be awarded that the funds deviation must cause "serious damage or obstruction to the public service". The Republicans stated right after reaching this agreement with the PSOE that from their point of view "this definition does not correspond to actions such as those carried out in the organization of the October 1st vote, and even less so with a prison sentence, because no serious damage or obstruction to the public service occurred." This, however, is the interpretation of ERC, which may differ from that of the judges and which indeed differs from the PSOE, since the Socialists have justified this amendment precisely on the basis that actions like the Catalan referendum must not go unpunished by Spanish justice.
Before the presentation that was held this Monday, ERC's commitment was to completely decriminalize the 2017 referendum. Last Friday, the Republicans presented an amendment to create a new subcategory within the crime of misuse of funds in order to punish those who misappropriate public money, but not for profit, with fewer years in prison - between six months and three years in prison. In other words, ERC wanted to reintroduce to the Penal Code the concept of personal or third-party profit as a condition for the most serious misuse of funds sentences, for which it committed itself to maintaining the penalties set by the PP in 2015: from two to six years in prison
The PSOE's option: a misuse of funds offence to prosecute the referendum
The Socialists, on the other hand, opted to differentiate several types of misappropriation of funds. First, they believe that the penalties should be kept as they are now when there is appropriation of the money itself. That is, when there is profit for the criminal or for a third party. The PSOE also wanted to differentiate cases in which public resources are misused but without the will to appropriate them. The intention was to punish these cases with penalties ranging from six months to three years in prison and a one to four-year ban from public office.
However, in the meeting, the PSOE wanted to punish this latter category, misuse of funds within the public administration, with a penalty of one to four years' prison, which ERC ended up accepting. Even though this amendment involves a reduction of two years compared to the penalties that exist now, it contains the intention to be able to continue to pursue cases like those of Catalonia's 1-O. Apart from this, the intention of the Socialists is also to prosecute people who have increased their wealth by more than 250,000 euros during their mandate and cannot prove the origin of the funds, which could be punished with up to six years in prison.
Unidas Podemos, "no clear position"
Meanwhile, the leader of the parliamentary group of Unidas Podemos, Jaume Asens, confirmed this Monday that his party is keeping a distance from the PSOE regarding the misuse of funds reform: "It will not carry our signature". However, Asens has not yet made it clear exactly what the position of Unidas Podemos is on this issue: "We are still discussing this issue and therefore we do not have a clear position". He has however stated that he welcomes the fact that both the ERC and PSOE proposals "go in the direction of dejudicializing" the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain.