There was a question mark hanging in the air in the Catalan High Court (TSJC) as the trial continued this Thursday of Laura Borràs for the alleged fragmentation of contracts she ordered when director of the Institute of Catalan Letters (ILC). It was this: whatever became of the Institute website which Borràs commissioned and the other main defendant, Isaías Herrero, designed? The portal disappeared in November 2018 after the Mossos conducted a search in relation to the case, and during today's interrogations of witnesses, questions about the responsibility and the recovery of this loss were raised. This morning it was time for the defence to call witnesses, and two former Catalan ministers of Culture, Ferran Mascarell and Santi Vila, appeared, both asserting that no-one had ever warned them of irregularities in the management of the ILC.
After an employee of the Institute of Catalan Letters had, yesterday, been highly critical of Borràs, claiming to have repeatedly warned the then-director of irregularities in the contracting, the defence lawyers continued on the line of trying to discredit this version, asking both Mossos and Civil Guards who testified, as well as those in charge of the culture ministry, if they had heard any such complaints previously from this witness. No-one had. Borràs and Herrero are facing a demand from the public prosecutor for 6 years in prison and a 21-year ban on holding public office for crimes of document falsification and fraud, for the irregular awarding of 18 contracts, with a value of 335,000 euros.
Borràs, suspended speaker of Parliament and president of the Junts party, whose smile froze yesterday with the appearance of the ILC official, was more relaxed with the entry of the former culture ministers, to the point that she tried to give Mascarell a note about when they first met. "You can't help the witness. Leave the accused alone," ordered the presiding judge, Jesús María Barrientos, who asked Borràs to sit at the end of the dock and move away from the witness.
Actions to destroy the web portal
The defence's questioning also emphasized the importance of the creation of the new portal designed by Herrero. Both Mascarell and Vila, as well as the current ILC dean, Francesc Parcerisses, and another former ILC director, Oriol Ponsatí, underlined the quality and value of the work which, they affirmed, marked a turning point in the Institute. Parcerisses regretted that the portal can no longer be consulted and compared it to Barcelona's unfinished Sagrera metro station, due to the loss it has represented of an "investment of public money and the personal efforts of many people".
Boye asked Ponsatí directly if at some point he had been called by an institution such as the prosecution service or a court to offer him "actions for the destruction of this portal and all these public resources". "No. Never in my life," he replied.
Former ILC director: "And at that moment [in 2018], the webpages had disappeared and I never knew absolutely anything more"
But the inquiry into the matter went even further. The prosecutor, Teresa Duerto, asked the former director of the Institute if he had made "any patrimonial claim to the state administration for the destruction of some evidence", which caused Boye to jump like a spring: "Is it being assumed that the state administration was responsible?" Barrientos resettled the situation and asked the witness if he had made any property compensation claims for the disappearance of the website. "I wouldn't have known who to do it to, to tell the truth," insisted the former ILC director.
Defence lawyer Boye: "Is it being assumed that the state administration was responsible?"
Throughout the morning, Borràs's defence and the public prosecution maintained a tug-of-war in the debate over the chain of custody for the evidence collected from Isaías Herrero's computers. In the middle, two Mossos officers who appeared today, along with the Civil Guard members who later participated in the investigation. The latter admitted that they had worked with copies of documents and not the originals and that, among the documents provided to them, there was no "hashing" folder, containing the security keys to guarantee the integrity of the evidence and ensure it had not been altered.
Boye: "At some point did you compare the content of the copy with the original to assure that it was the same?"
After two days of clashes between Boye and the court president, today it was the prosecutor Duerto who was on the receiving end, reprimanded by the judge for the way she conducted the interrogations of the officers. Despite Barrientos's interruptions in over an interrogation that seemed "endless" and the prosecutor's assurance that she would lighten the questioning load, the judge's patience finally ran out and he ended up warning her that it was a format that "adds nothing new" and ordered her to finish, as she had "promised half an hour before".
The trial will resume next Monday, when, among other matters, the testimony of Borràs herself is scheduled.