Legal reprisal against president Mas for 9-N

Torres-Dulce, Spain's Attorney General, ends the controversy and gains support from public prosecutors to charge the president, Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau with four offences

M. FERRER / O. MARCH Madrid / Barcelona

The Spanish state will finally try to get Artur Mas in the dock on account of 9-N and remove him from office by taking legal action. Once the pressure coming from the Spanish government was evident, Eduardo Torres-Dulce needed to justify his reasons to go through with it. On this basis, yesterday he received the approval of the public prosecutors, another step towards discrediting the rebellion of the Catalan prosecutors. Almost unanimously, the Board of Court Prosecutors backed the complaint lodged by Torres-Dulce, the Attorney General who was appointed by the Spanish government. "Basically, his position has been ratified in this matter over that of the main Catalan prosecutor, who did not gain anyone's support", said some of the Board's sources after a meeting which lasted almost four and a half hours.

The next step --this very same week-- is for Madrid to instruct the Attorney's Office of Catalonia to comply with the "principle of legality and hierarchy" that applies to the Public Prosecutor's Office and to charge president Artur Mas, vice-president Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau --the Education Minister-- with four offences: disobedience, breach of public duties, misuse of public funds and abuse of power for organising the 9-N vote. According to the same sources, these are the names and the charges that appear on the document that Torres-Dulce presented to the top public prosecutors. However, these could vary if a couple of discrepancies are taken into account.
Only 2 out of 24 prosecutors disagree

Even though the decision by the Board is not binding, the Public Prosecutor's Office added that some prosecutors had "technical" objections to some of the offences laid out, which will be considered when the lawsuit is written up. Despite all of this, 22 of those who were present at the meeting gave their support to the draft and only two objected, using very similar arguments to those presented by the main Catalan prosecutor, José María Romero de Tejada, who finds himself in an awkward position after turning down Madrid's request. In an unusual move, the Attorney's Office of Catalonia cancelled a press conference after having called it only 12 hours earlier.

"The debate has been legal and civil, without any conflicts, even though there were a few disagreements", said Eduardo Fungairiño, one of the Board's legal prosecutors, after leaving the meeting. He didn't want to give further details before Torres-Dulce made an announcement; but it seems that the Attorney General intends on staying away from the cameras until at least next Wednesday, when he is due to appear before the Spanish parliament.
The two prosecutors who disagreed are Bartolomé Vargas, from road safety, and Pedro Crespo, from the Supreme Court. The former argued that citizen complaints have already been lodged with the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia which render the Prosecutor's actions unnecessary. On the other hand, Crespo thought that the Constitutional Court as an institution is not part of the judiciary and that, therefore, its suspensions cannot be executed directly. This argument would be in line with one of the stronger objections made by the Catalan prosecutors. They believe that the Constitutional Court, when suspending 9-N, did not issue any orders to the government to halt its organisation and that, therefore, there are no grounds to claim that there has been an act of disobedience.

This is a point of view that Torres-Dulce tries to nip in the bud in his lawsuit. His proposal, which El Mundo had access to, deems that the Constitutional Court's suspension "left no room for doubt" because "it affected any action which sought to propel the participatory process". Furthermore, he rails against the proposal made by Mas after the binding referendum was struck down. He intimates that the president went through with the new 9-N with "the one and only objective of eluding judicial control, which, up until then had prevented the call to the polls".

Legal defence ready

Despite some complaints, Torres-Dulce has finally satisfied the Spanish government's wish. The Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, simply said that he had "fulfilled" his function and that he will now "ensure that the Prosecutor's decision is respected". PSOE called it an "error" that will only "make relations with Catalonia worse".
The lawsuit did not surprise the Catalan government who had taken it for granted since the disagreements between Torres-Dulce and Catalan prosecutors were made public. The Generalitat's legal services have readied a legal defence for Mas, Ortega and Rigau on the basis that the lawsuit "makes no legal or judicial sense". This is how it was explained by Francesc Homs, the Presidential Minister, who believes that the lawsuit has "no basis". "If allowing freedom of speech turns out to be a crime, then we are not in a democracy", he insisted, finding it ironical that the Spanish government should rule out proposing a new finance system for the regions which was due in the present term. "It is the true representation of those who ignore the law. I doubt whether they will file a complaint against Montoro, the Finance Minister", he stated.

Effects on the process

How can the Prosecutor's decisions affect the process? The Catalan government believes that those who think that they can weaken it "do not know the people of Catalonia". Almost all parties (with the exception of Alícia Sánchez-Camacho's PP and Ciutadans, who think that Torres-Dulce reacted late) railed against the lawsuit and half-admitted that this could strengthen Mas and speed up the process. ERC called it an "empty gesture", while PSC labelled it a "telluric" error. ICV-EUiA announced that they will submit a statement to the Prosecutor's Office to come forward as coauthors of 9-N. The CUP accused the Public Prosecutor of turning Mas into the "protagonist" of the Catalan cause.
The government, according to Homs, faces the new case being taken by the State calmly and reiterates that actions related to 9-N were done within the law, in accordance with freedom of speech. At the Generalitat they understand that the Board has been under "unjustifiable pressure" from the PP and can already gauge the political consequences of the lawsuit that will make relations with the Spanish government even more strained.

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