Spain’s audit court tells organizers of 2014 Catalan vote to pay back €4.9m

Ex-regional premier Artur Mas and several aides are held accountable for the public funds that were used to hold a symbolic independence referendum that predates the one held on October 1, 2017

Artur Mas voting on Novermber 9, 2014.
Artur Mas voting on Novermber 9, 2014.C. Ribas

The Spanish Audit Court has ordered several former members of the Catalan government to return more than €4.9 million of public money that was used to fund an informal vote on independence that was held on November 9, 2014 despite a ban by the Constitutional Court.

This unauthorized vote, known popularly as 9-N, was non-binding and predates the October 1, 2017 referendum on independence organized by the government of former premier Carles Puigdemont, and which led to a unilateral declaration of independence and a temporary suspension of Catalonia’s self-government.

The Audit Court found that these officials went ahead with the vote despite knowing that it was illegal

In March 2017, ex-regional premier Artur Mas, his former deputy Joana Ortega and his education chief Irene Rigau were found guilty of disobedience by the Catalonia High Court, which barred them from holding public office and handed down fines.

Now, the Audit Court has found Artur Mas ultimately responsible for all the expenses incurred by the Catalan executive and says he can be held accountable for the full amount of €4,946,788.16. The other guilty parties may be held responsible for their share of participation in organizing the symbolic referendum, which yielded a 80% response in favor of independence but had a low turnout rate of 33%, as most detractors chose to stay home.

Joana Ortega has been told to return €865,764 in connection with online expenses derived from organizing the 2014 vote. Irene Rigau, who was the education chief, is being held accountable for €2.8 million because her department purchased the 7,000 computers that were used in the vote. The Catalan government had argued that those computers were later donated to schools, and should not be counted as a 9-N expense.

People waiting to hear the results of the 9-N vote.
People waiting to hear the results of the 9-N vote.EFE

A fourth former official, Francesc Homs, who was the Catalan government spokesman, has been told to pay back €1.9 million that was used for advertising and campaign mailing.

The Audit Court found that these officials went ahead with the vote despite knowing that it had been outlawed, and dismissed the defense’s claim that their clients should not be held accountable for the 9-N expenses because they were not charged with misuse of public funds in the criminal trial conducted by the Catalonia High Court.

Mas and his aides have also been ordered to pay interest and legal fees in connection with the case. In December of last year, some of them had properties seized to guarantee a €5.27 million bond.

English version by Susana Urra.

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