Former high-ranking Treasury official admits he failed to spot any funds directly linked to organizing the referendum on independence

Felipe Martínez described the strict financial controls that Madrid imposed on the Catalan government from 2015 to September 2017

MARIONA FERRER I FORNELLS / OT SERRA

At the start of the sixth week of the trial against the Catalan political leaders, Spain’s former deputy secretary of finance, Felipe Martínez, who served under former minister Cristóbal Montoro during the referendum on the independence of Catalonia, appeared in court to give evidence.

Martínez described the strict financial controls that Madrid imposed on the Catalan government from 2015 to September 2017. During this period the financial reports which the Catalan government were required to file went from being monthly to weekly in July, with the Spanish government ultimately taking responsibility for all payments. Martínez hinted that a crime of misappropriation of funds might have been committed, although he was unable to provide almost any details. Using highly technical jargon to reply to the prosecutor, Martínez declared that the financial control that the State imposed on the Catalan government’s budget was not able to totally eliminate any possibility of "unauthorized contracts". However, he admitted that the Spanish Treasury did not spot any funds directly linked to the referendum, declaring himself to "have no knowledge" of any such monies.

As for the items he was able to scrutinise, Felipe Martínez defended the Treasury’s role, pointing out that the Catalan government "officially complied" with the provision of information and the notification of payments, not without a certain delay, though he warned that some reports were incomplete, leading them to be referred to the Public Prosecutor's Office. Nevertheless, he was unable to say whether they had a direct connection with the referendum. Specifically, the Treasury reported to the Public Prosecutor changes in contracts made in relation to the Department of the Presidency’s Civisme advertising campaign to the sum of €3.5 million at the end of August. They also reported invoices regarding the movements of international analysts around the time of the referendum submitted by Diplocat [The Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, a public-private consortium devoted to promoting international awareness of Catalonia]. However, Martínez did not wish to give any details, stating that he did not remember specific dates regarding the visits or the amounts concerned. In response to questions put to him by Judit Gené, the lawyer representing the former minister Meritxell Borràs, Martínez stated that during the full takeover of the Catalan government’s finances following the application of article 155 [direct rule], he did not recall whether they ended up paying the invoices relating to the international analysts invited by Diplocat.

The prosecutor Consuelo Madrigal attempted to ask Martínez directly if the referendum was paid for out of public funds. However, the president of the court, Justice Manuel Marchena, cut her off, refusing to let the witness express a personal opinion. In answer to the question, Felipe Martínez defended the Ministry of Finance’s decision in 2018 to participate in all the cases brought against the referendum due to any possible losses to the State's coffers since, in spite of the ministry’s controls over spending, "the material reality of events" could be quite different. In other words, Martínez implied that they did everything within their ability, but that funds might have been misappropriated. His testimony was loaded with highly technical jargon and he spoke in an unhurried manner that infuriated chief prosecutor Madrigal.

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