Head of Catalan police during referendum says he had a unit ready to arrest Puigdemont and his cabinet

The rebellion charge rests in part on the role of the Catalan police and if there was collusion with the Government


Josep Lluís Trapero came through. The head of the Catalan police during the October 1st (1-O) referendum agreed to take the stand as a witness despite being tried for rebellion in Spain’s National Court, and did so to explain in detail the decisions he made during the key dates of the independence bid. Trapero defended the Mossos d’Esquadra (the Catalan police force) at all times. He described his differences with the Catalan government at the time and referred to statements by former Interior Minister Joaquim Forn ahead of 1-O as “slightly irresponsible”. He also admitted to disagreements with Diego Pérez de los Cobos, the coordinator of the police operation appointed by the Spanish government, but he stressed that they were expected to act as a single force on the day of the referendum. He pointed out that all police were under a court order to “conduct themselves with restraint and preserve social peace”, and left his headline for the end, during the cross-examination by the defenses.

In response to Joaquim Forn’s lawyer, Trapero assured that he had a police team ready to enforce any possible court orders —he stated that this could include the arrest of president Carles Puigdemont and the entire government following the declaration of independence— and he communicated as much to José María Romero de Tejada, lead prosecutor for Catalonia, and to Jesús María Barrientos, president of the TSJC (the Catalan High Court). As he had declared before the National Court during the case’s investigatory phase, Trapero told the Supreme Court that —on the day of the declaration of independence— he had sent Romero de Tejada and Barrientos two email messages offering the services of the Catalan police.

Trapero’s testimony confirmed that he played no part in the Catalan government’s plans, as he had anticipated at a September 28 meeting in the Palau de la Generalitat with Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras, Joaquim Forn, and the police top brass. “We conveyed our concern that on the day of the referendum there would be 2 million people and 12,000 police officers on active duty, and that this would necessarily lead to major disturbances”, explained Trapero, when asked by Justice Manuel Marchena .

After the midday recess, public prosecutor Javier Zaragoza brought up the issue of the priority of preserving peaceful coexistence vs. the fulfillment of the judicial orders. Trapero made it clear that Judge Armas had delivered the operational section of the court order issued to prevent 1-O, and he learned about the reference to guaranteeing "peaceful coexistence", mentioned in one of the legal grounds of the order, the next day through media reports. The head of the Catalan police assured that preserving social peace did not prevail over the fulfillment of the judicial instruction, but it was the means that had to be used to carry it out.

At this point, Trapero revealed an instruction from judge Armas -which he had disclosed at the National Court— at the end of a meeting on September 27 with police leaders: “You must act patiently, in a collected manner, and guarantee social peace at all times”. Given this, he argued that it was “offensive” to him that De los Cobos labeled the fact that Trapero set “limits” on the use of force as an “excuse” for not complying with the judge’s instructions.

Differences with minister Forn

Another key aspect of his testimony was Trapero’s intention to clearly distance himself from the Catalan government. He noted that he had been “uncomfortable” for a while with the “political drift” of the government. According to his “perception”, Jordi Jané (the Interior Minister before Joaquim Forn) stepped down because “he did not want to run any kind of risk”. The Catalan police boss also criticized some of Forn’s statements about the role of the Mossos just before 1-O, saying that they would not prevent the referendum, as “irresponsible”. And he remarked that he had conveyed this concern to the government.

He also denied any political interference by the Interior Ministry. In reply to the state attorney’s question about whether Forn gave any order to “minimize risks”, Trapero said he didn’t. When asked by Forn’s lawyer, he mentioned the “concern” in the police force when —following his appointment— the new minister insisted that the referendum be facilitated. “If you have a government that somehow favors or promotes an illegal act, but at the same time has a police force that reports to that government, this will naturally go against the opinion of the unions and of the force as a whole”, he noted. However, he did make it clear that Forn later made quite a “strong statement on the independence of the corps” because with time “he came to understand” the differences between the Government and the Police.

The actions of the Catalan police in the days leading up to the vote have been the subject of debate, and Trapero clearly demonstrated that the actions of the TSJC magistrate Mercedes Armas changed the plans with regards to the Prosecutor's instructions. He emphasised that he had submitted an action plan to comply with the prosecutor’s order to close off the polling stations and cordon off a perimeter of 100 meters. The plan involved 40,000 officers and it would require assistance from the other police forces, as the Mossos do not have this number of officers. “The TSJC instructions were different," Trapero said, and he later noted that the judge’s order superseded the prosecutor’s, which were then no longer “in force”.