A Spanish court has acquitted Josep Lluís Trapero, the former head of Catalonia’s police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, in a sedition trial over his role in the failed separatist breakaway attempt of October 2017.
Trapero and three other defendants have been cleared of the charges by the criminal division of Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, in a ruling that was communicated to the defendants on Wednesday morning and made public.
The decision comes as Catalonia faces a new regional election after its government leader Quim Torra was recently barred from public office for disobeying electoral laws during a campaign.
Torra’s predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, headed the secessionist drive and was removed from office in late October 2017, following a unilateral declaration of independence inside the regional parliament. He fled the country to avoid prosecution while 12 other political and civil society leaders were arrested and tried for rebellion and sedition at Spain’s Supreme Court.
In a separate trial that ran for nearly five months, a majority of the High Court judges who tried Trapero found that the former head of the Mossos d’Esquadra did not engage in acts of sedition or disobedience during Catalonia’s secessionist drive.
The public prosecutor had argued that the Catalan police force was passive on the day of an outlawed independence referendum despite court orders to all law-enforcement agencies to halt the vote. Images of the National Police and Civil Guard forcibly removing people from some polling stations on October 1, 2017 made global headlines and caused a rift between these forces and the Mossos, who are under the direction of the Catalan government.
But the judges agreed with the defense that the Mossos were not passive, and instead acted on the principle of “proportionality” to avoid further harm at a time of great tension.
The court additionally acquitted Trapero’s political superiors César Puig, ex-secretary general of the Catalan department of internal affairs, and Pere Soler, the former director general of the Mossos d’Esquadra. A fourth defendant was also cleared: Teresa Laplana, who was in charge of security at the Catalan economy department during a police raid on September 20, 2017 that resulted in street disturbances.
During the trial, Trapero stated that he felt quite “uncomfortable” with some of the decisions taken by the Catalan government at the time, and by some of the resolutions passed by the separatist majority inside the regional parliament.
If the High Court had found Trapero guilty of sedition, mirroring the Supreme Court’s ruling in October 2019 against the political leaders of the independence drive, he would have faced up to 10 years in prison. The court could also have convicted him of disobedience, which would have meant paying a fine instead of serving a prison term. The third possibility was an acquittal, which a majority of judges on the panel favored.
The public prosecution had originally charged Trapero with rebellion as well as sedition. Rebellion entails even higher prison terms, but this charge was dropped at the last minute. His actions were described by prosecutors as “not just deplorable, but criminal.”
In statements to the court during the trial, Civil Guard Colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos, who coordinated the police operation on referendum day, said that Trapero “was completely aligned with the [referendum organizers].”
English version by Susana Urra.