Francesc Homs is just one step away from the dock for his role in the unofficial 2014 Catalan independence referendum. And the next, and definitive, step could be taken in a matter of days after the examining judge of the second chamber of the Supreme Court, Andrés Palomo del Arco, called an end to the pre-trial proceedings. This means the case, investigating accusations of neglect of duty and contempt of court by the ex-minister for the Presidency of the Catalan government and current member of Congress, becomes an abbreviated procedure, ending the pre-trial investigation and giving a period of ten days to the public prosecutor to request the opening of oral arguments and to formulate the written charges, if they consider it appropriate. Homs announced yesterday that he won’t appeal this decision because he doesn’t want to give clues as to his defence: “This is like a war and, as such, we have to proceed tactically. We’ll save the legal artillery for when the trial starts”.
According to the harsh 33-page interlocutory order which accuses Homs and the Catalan government of “crudely” contravening the legal system and justifying it with a “vague civic mandate”, there is sufficient evidence of the accusations against the ex-minister to proceed with the case. The judge notes that the unofficial referendum was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court only 5 days before it took place but, even so, Homs “didn’t suspend any of the acts or actions leading to the vote, not even those which directly depended on the department of the Presidency, of which he was in charge, despite being aware of the suspension agreed by the Constitutional Court and the consequent unviability of the referendum”. Moreover, the magistrate states, he “enabled” the “so-called ‘participatory process’ which culminated in the unofficial referendum on 9 September”.
Among the arguments used by the judge is a letter sent by Homs to T-Systems, the business contracted to manage the computer systems for the vote, in which he confirmed that the vote was going ahead and assured that he had consulted with the “Catalan government’s legal services”. This request for legal advice, according to the interlocutory order, never happened.
For the examining magistrate, Homs’ decisions were “arbitrary, neglectful and active, absolutely contrary to the constitution”. According to Palomo, the actions carried out by the Catalan government “crudely contravened the legal system; and not only ordinary law, but also constitutional law”. In an adjective-heavy text, the judge describes Homs’ behaviour as “open, obstinate and persistent” in refusing to wind back the participatory process, with a “frank, clear, patent, undoubtable, undisguised and unequivocal” denial to comply with the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
Palomo del Arco was writing little more than a month after Congress gave him permission to continue the proceedings against Homs, who benefits from parliamentary privilege, gaining an advantage over the legal proceedings pursued by the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia against ex-president Artur Mas and ex-ministers Irene Rigau and Joana Ortega. Foreseeably, the public prosecutor will present their charges in the next few days and the judge will then be able to open the oral arguments.
“ A dead-end street”
Accompanied by a good part of the management of the Democratic Party and his colleagues from Madrid, and with the support of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont communicated via social networks, Homs accused the Spanish state of wanting to “criminalise” politicians and “present [them] as criminals” for opening ballot boxes. This, he said, leaves the government in a “dead-end street”. The ex-minister, who stated that “what they’re trying to put on trial is the dignity of a people”, reinforced his commitment to the unofficial referendum and said that he would “do it all again”. Moreover, he accused the Spanish government of organising a “political trial”, warning that “it won’t be able to erase” the 2014 vote, “just as it won’t be able to stop the 2017 referendum”.