Spanish Prosecutor's Office seeks organized crime charges against officials indicted over Catalan referendum

Among them is the director of TV3, the Catalan public television network

The Prosecutor's Office wants to press organized crime charges against 28 of the 30 current and former government officials and businessmen investigated by Barcelona's 13th Court over the Catalan referendum held on October 1, 2017. The judge assigned to the case left the 30 people accused one step away from a trial for misappropriation, dereliction of duty, and disobedience, but the public prosecutor wants to extend the indictment to include another crime —belonging to a criminal organization—, which carries much higher penalties. It is the same crime for which Josep Lluís Trapero, the head of the Catalan police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, has also been prosecuted in Spain’s National Court.

Among the accused who the Prosecutor's Office also seeks to try for being part of a criminal organization is Antoni Molons (the former Secretary of Communication of the Catalan government), Communications Director Jaume Clotet, Joaquim Nin (the Secretary of the Presidency), Secretary General for Labor Josep Ginesta, General Director for Heritage Francesc Sutrias, the former permanent representative of the Generalitat to the European Union (Amadeu Altafaj), the former Secretary General of Foreign Affairs (Aleix Villatoro), the former secretary general of Diplocat (Albert Royo), Rosa Vidal (the Catalan government's auditor), the President of the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation (CCMA), Núria Llorach, TV3 Director Vicent Sanchis, the Director of Catalunya Ràdio (Saül Gordillo), and the Marketing Director of the CCMA (Martí Patxot).

The only ones to escape the fresh accusations are Meritxell Massó, Secretary General for Governance, Montserrat Vidal, head of Electoral Processes, and businessman Josep Maria Gispert, for whom the Prosecutor could not find any grounds to bring charges. On the other hand, the list of 28 names allegedly involved in organised criminal activities includes the director of the Catalan Data Protection Authority, Àngels Barbarà, whom the judge of the 13th Court had initially exonerated.

"Coordinated" action, hierarchy, and division of roles

The prosecutor's argument for demanding the qualitative leap implied by prosecuting the 28 present and former government officials and businessmen for being part of a criminal organization is that they acted in a "coordinated and joint" manner to disobey Constitutional Court resolutions and move forward with the referendum, each one within their own responsibilities, but following a joint "roadmap". According to the public prosecutor, the examining judge reached this same conclusion, because the existence of a joint plan to carry out the referendum is mentioned at the very start of her report. That's why they reproach her for "forgetting" to mention it in her final conclusions.

The prosecutor's office believes that the defendants also met the rest of the prerequisites found in the definition of a criminal organization. They not only acted in a coordinated way, but there was a "hierarchy" and a "distribution of roles" to carry out their "independence plan". So who was at the top of the alleged organization described by the prosecution? The Prosecutor's Office points at Carles Puigdemont, the former president of the Generalitat, his former vice president (Oriol Junqueras), and the rest of the ex-ministers currently standing trial in the Supreme Court for rebellion.

The second or third tier would include those prosecuted by Barcelona’s 13th Court who, each within their own functions, acted with the same "criminal intent" as the top tier. The goal which they sought ”over time and in a sustained manner” was nothing more, in the view of the Prosecutor's Office, than to hold the independence referendum and "to obtain by criminal means the secession of the autonomous community of Catalonia from the Kingdom of Spain", the prosecutors emphasize.

The macro-case of the 13th Court of Barcelona was initiated as a result of the complaint filed by a lawyer over statements made by Santiago Vidal, judge and ex-senator of ERC, who stated in public that the Catalan government had access to the tax data of Catalans and would use them for the referendum. Over time the investigation of the case grew to include 43 people in a macro-case that forms the basis for the charges of rebellion in the Supreme Court and for sedition in the National Court. Vidal, however, was exonerated in the end —the judge did not see any reason to indict him, like twelve others— and the Prosecutor's Office has also excluded him from its new brief.

In fact, the document issued by the prosecution points out that, despite the prosecution resolution filed by the judge, neither the prosecutor's office nor the Guardia Civil have closed their investigation into October 1, "not only because the judicial police have not yet presented all the official statements, but because there is still evidence to be reviewed", the Public Prosecutor points out. The Prosecutor also criticizes the judge for not charging some of those accused for additional crimes, such as Albert Royo or Natàlia Garriga for dereliction of duty, or David Palanques and Josep Ginesta for revelation of secrets.

With the request to expand the range of crimes in the prosecution’s brief, the Prosecutor's Office wants to be allowed to keep its options open in the future for possibly filing a longer list of charges, and for more serious felonies than initially raised by the examining judge. The brief has been signed by three prosecutors from Barcelona, Isabel Nevot, Fernando Maldonado, and Teresa Duerto. The latter two are anti-graft prosecutors.

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