Spanish public prosecutors are now considering action against the Catalan president in exile, Carles Puigdemont, via the state's Court of Accounts. Specifically, they could attempt by reclaim from Puigdemont all the money supposedly spent on the organization of the 1st October referendum. According to judicial sources, using the Court of Accounts, the tribunal which audits public spending, would allow the funds to be recovered more rapidly, as it has "better legal tools". Sources close to the court calculate that the sum supposedly misappropriated for the 2017 independence vote, declared illegal by the Madrid government, is about three million euros.
According to Spanish media El País and La Sexta, the public prosecutors now want to open a process against those accused for the referendum case that will run in parallel with the existing criminal proceedings, and will involve the Court of Accounts. It will also allow a new legal case to be mounted against president Carles Puigdemont and the other Catalan government members in exile, who in this case, would not have to be present in the court for the case against them to be heard. The objective would be to recover the Catalan government funds that were supposedly destined to the funding of the independence process up until the declaration of independence in the Catalan Parliament on 27th October 2017.
On Friday, Spain's prosecutors and state solicitors presented their indictments and the sentences sought for those currently jailed or on bail in relation to the referendum case. As well as the accusations of rebellion, sedition, disobedience and misuse of funds, the accusations included an initial calculation of the funds supposedly destined to the referendum. According to the prosecutors, this figure is 2.87 million euros. The state solicitors' calculation is lower: 1.97 million euros. And there is also a third calculation that has been made: the Civil Guard calculates that the spending was 4.02 million euros.
Precedent of Mas, Homs, Ortega and Rigau
This is not the first time that Spanish public prosecutors have initiated a process in this financial-audit court in relation to the Catalan independence process. "Accounting misappropriation" was earlier considered to have taken place in the organization of the unofficial referendum on 9th November, 2014 and the Court of Accounts was asked to investigate former president Artur Mas and ministers Francesc Homs, Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau. The main 2014 case was heard in the Catalan High Court two years ago and it culminated in sentences of disqualification from office holding and large fines. But the anti-independence group Societat Civil Catalana then opened up a second part of the case by presenting accusations on alleged irregularities in the funding of the consultation, in the Court of Accounts.
In this case, the prosecution claimed the sum of 5.25 million euros from the accused. The defendants had to deposit this figure as a deposit before the trial, which was held in October and is now pending sentence. The decision of the Court of Accounts can be appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court also impounded assets belonging to the accused.
No need for court appearance by the accused
The prosecutors consider that resorting to the Court of Accounts provides an easier path for an investigation of the alleged offence of mis¡use of public funds. This court is the highest organ of the state in fiscal matters and because of that has "the best tools to determine the total amount of public funds deviated", say legal sources. "It has many more resources than the Supreme Court in that regard", they add. But it also has another significant power at its disposition: the ability to conduct a criminal process without the accused physically appearing in the court.