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Attorney General orders Catalan police boss to “seize ballot boxes, envelopes and print material” for independence referendum

On Tuesday morning Catalonia’s Attorney General José María Romero de Tejada met Catalan Police Commissioner Josep Lluís Trapero and the chiefs of Spain’s Guardia Civil and National Police in Catalonia

Spain’s public prosecutor has taken another step in its bid to halt all preparations for the referendum on independence slated for October 1. On Tuesday morning Romero de Tejada summoned Mossos d’Esquadra boss Josep Lluís Trapero to convey the Attorney General’s instructions to block Catalonia’s referendum. Also present at the meeting were the chiefs of Spain’s Guardia Civil and National Police in Catalonia. José María Romero de Tejada personally conveyed to them the instructions issued by Spain’s Attorney General, José Manuel Maza, on the subject of the referendum preparations. He stated that the AG’s orders must be conveyed to all units of the three law enforcement agencies within 24 hours.

Specifically, the instructions indicate that the AG may issue orders to all three police forces and they are expected to respond to any action taken by “authorities, public employees and private individuals” to hold the “illegal” referendum on October 1. Their orders are to “seize ballot boxes, voting envelopes, instruction manuals for staff manning polling stations, ballot forms, print material, referendum propaganda, digital media and any other material used to promote, advertise or carry out the illegal vote” so as to prevent “crimes from being committed”.

If any of the three police forces were to learn about any actions aimed at holding the referendum, “they are to write up a report of the incident immediately, including all relevant details about the execution, the instigators, participants and surrounding circumstances” because there are grounds for charges of disobedience, neglect of duty and misappropriation of public funds. The report will have to be sent to the District Attorney’s office and police will be expected "to take the necessary steps to document the offence and establish the criminal charges that might be pressed”, in addition to any proceedings filed by the public prosecutor.

Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra: the exception

Unlike Commissioner Trapero and three Catalan police commanders, neither Spain’s Guardia Civil nor the National Police had been preventatively warned by the Constitutional Court about taking any action that might allow or facilitate the Catalan referendum. Madrid is keeping a watchful eye on the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s own police force. Last Friday a first salvo was fired when Commissioner Trapero’s name was included on a list of one thousand Catalan officials who have been formally warned by the Constitutional Court. On Friday afternoon Catalonia’s High Court sent bailiffs to serve Trapero and three other Catalan police chiefs an injunction. Additionally, on Thursday Maza instructed Romero de Tejada to issue the order that has been given to the top brass of the three police forces in Catalonia.

Criminal Law professor Joan Queralt (Universitat de Barcelona) explained that the order, which was not released until Friday, will not be applicable to privately-owned premises without a warrant, but this will not be required in public buildings and in the street. Furthermore, the DAs have been ordered to use the police to stop any referendum preparations that they might learn about. On Tuesday all police chiefs were informed about this provision.

Waiting for Catalonia’s High Court

After the first two warnings sent to the Mossos, a third one might follow if Catalonia’s High Court agrees to grant the precautionary measures requested by the prosecutor in its legal proceedings against the Catalan government over the calling of the referendum on independence. Specifically, the Attorney General has asked the court to instruct the Mossos and the Spanish police and Guardia Civil to “take any necessary steps to impede the promotion, organisation and holding of the illegal referendum” and seize, for instance, “ballot boxes, voting envelopes, instruction manuals for staff manning polling stations, ballot forms, digital media and suchlike”, granting officers permission to enter any premises as they see fit.

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