Spain's Congress of Deputies has voted to remove the parliamentary immunity of Laura Borràs, of the pro-independence Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party, to allow her to be tried by the Supreme Court on accusations of fraudulent contracting decisions by the Catalan public body Institució de les Lletres Catalanes when it was under her management. In its session this Thursday, behind closed doors, the majority of MPs voted in favour of the petition registered by the Supreme Court. The vote passed easily, with support from all five of the largest parties: PSOE, Unidas Podemos, PP, Vox and Ciudadanos. The pro-independence parties' votes were irrelevant, but they once again put their differences on show: JxCat along with the Basque Nationalists (PNV) voted against the motion, while the Catalans ERC and CUP, the abertzale EH Bildu and the Galician party BNG decided not to participate in the vote.
Borràs, JxCat spokeswoman in the Congress, and a key pro-independence voice in Madrid since she took office in the Spanish election of April 2019, has been under investigation since December for an alleged irregular contract which she was responsible for as the head of the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes. Borràs has denied all allegations since the beginning. "I say this now: I am not guilty. I have not committed any of the alleged crimes of which I am accused," she said after appearing in committee, also behind closed doors. Under Spanish law, members of parliament are protected from prosecution in lower courts, but can be tried at higher levels if parliament votes to lift their immunity.
Although their votes were irrelevant to the outcome, the Catalan pro-independence parties once again displayed their differences in today's vote. The three independence parties, JxCat, ERC and the CUP, tried until the last minute to reach a consensus on a joint response to the vote on opening the Supreme Court's path to try Laura Borràs. Finally, the negotiations ended in disarray. After learning that ERC and the CUP had chosen not to participate in the vote - which was the initial proposal from JxCat - Borràs's party warned that "the only possible vote which is consistent and dignified is no."
The final result in the Spanish lower house: 293 in favour, 14 against and five abstentions. As the vote is secret, it is not yet known who the unforeseen abstentions are. A total of 38 MPs did not participate in the vote.
Both ERC and the CUP justified their positions by balancing the need to investigate alleged irregularities with their view that Borràs will not have a fair trial in the Supreme Court. In fact, they claimed that the best solution would be for Borràs to resign as an MP, thus losing her immunity and meaning that the accusations would be heard in a lower court.
The JxCat spokeswoman was director of the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes (ILC), a public body promoting Catalan literature and reading, from 2013 to 2018. She is being investigated for alleged crimes of malfeasance, misuse of public funds, fraud and forgery, relating to the alleged granting by personal decision of contracts which, it is claimed, should have been awarded by a tendering process. Borràs entered politics in the Catalan election of December 2017, standing as an independent candidate for Carles Puigdemont's JxCat ticket. She then led the party candidature in the Spanish general election in April 2019, thus gaining a seat in Congress. In December 2019, it was announced that she was under investigation for the alleged contractual irregularities.
Presenting an enormous amount of documentary material, the JxCat spokesperson denounced a long "catalogue of procedural irregularities" in the case against her and an "absolute absence of facts that could be prosecuted." She denounced what she considers to be a "political persecution with no evidence of an offence."
After today's vote, speaker of the Congress Meritxell Batet will have eight days to convey the decision to the Supreme Court.