JOSÉ MARÍA BRUNET – MADRID – 08 MAY 2021
The former presidents of the Generalitat Carles Puigdemont and Artur Mas chair the PdeCat National Committee in September 2019.ANDREU DALMAU
The Court of Auditors’ report on the Generalitat’s foreign action reveals irregularities in the foreign promotion of the pro-independence project.
For seven years, between 2011 and 2017, the Generalitat developed an incessant and illicit international promotion of the pro-Catalonia process, ranging from high-level contacts of its main leaders with foreign leaders and diplomats to the organisation of activities in all kinds of forums, with the aim of gathering support and recognition for the idea of a near independence of Catalonia. On several occasions, these activities were financed with irregular contracts.
This is what is set out in the audit report issued by the Court of Auditors against the former presidents of the Generalitat Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont, as well as against the vice-president Oriol Junqueras, six former ministers and 31 senior officials and civil servants of the Catalan administration for alleged accounting responsibility for the diversion of public funds used to seek international support for the procès.
The report of the Court of Auditors states that this promotional work had a high cost for the public coffers, but it is difficult to calculate, because there was no proper budgetary control of the expenses made, nor is there sufficient documentation to accredit the amounts allegedly diverted for these illegal purposes. The figure put forward by sources in the investigation, which places this accounting responsibility at 4.8 million euros, is only a first approximation of what may be established by judgement at the end of the procedure.
By way of example, when the report refers to the expenses incurred by the delegations of the Generalitat abroad, it underlines that “the supporting documentation” made available to the Court of Auditors “was disorganised and incomplete, failing to comply with the rules of custody and formation of the files”. It adds that the filing and conservation system for the documents “was irregular and did not comply with the minimum standards required for efficient and rational control”. All this “has made the scope of the audit by the Court of Auditors considerably more difficult and at times limited”.
Between 2011 and 2012, for example, these delegations spent a total of 1,049,261.63 euros, without the investigation having revealed how this amount was spent. The court sought to establish a cost calculation on the basis of the work carried out. In this respect, the opinion explains that the Generalitat sent 2,795 documents after being asked to provide data on the reports carried out by these delegations. But the Court of Audit itself estimates that more than 10,000 were produced, taking into account “the majority of notes that should have been produced ex officio”. In any case, “the majority” of these notes were “not sent”, nor were “the dossiers on the numerous trips – there were 45, according to the report itself – made by members of the government” abroad to promote the procés.
Regarding the importance of these delegations, the report refers to the early existence of strategic foreign action plans, drawn up with the supposed support of different departments of the Generalitat, but no minutes of the meetings held for this purpose exist or have been provided. However, it was possible to obtain the plan for the years 2015 to 2018, corresponding to the Secretariat for External Action and for the European Union, which states: “at the time of drafting this Plan, the Government is working on the structures of the State, including those that refer to the foreign sphere”. And among the objectives set for this project is that of “exporting and legitimising at international and EU level the democratic process initiated in Catalonia and based on the right to decide”.
As for the procedures followed to achieve these aims, the report recounts various episodes relating to initiatives without legal cover, such as the signing of contracts with a “diffuse” purpose. An example is the contracting between July and August 2017 of a Dutch firm by the Geneva and Brussels delegations. The file states that “the reports accompanying the documentation submitted could not justify the activity carried out”, although there is evidence that between September and October of the same year a payment of 243,200 euros was made to the company contracted by both delegations.
Contracts to circumvent procedures
The processing carried out,” explains the tax report, “is evidence of a splitting of the contract in order to avoid the requirements and demands of the applicable contracting procedure”. And it adds that in this way “it was intended, and was achieved, to circumvent the systems of administrative control of legality and opportunity and even parliamentary control”.
The conclusion reached by the instructors of the report “the real cause and purpose of the contracting was to finance the development of an illegal act which was the illegal consultation promoted by the government of the Catalan Generalitat, and, specifically, to meet the expenses and fees received by the so-called group of election observers” hired in relation to the referendum banned by the Constitutional Court, and whose celebration on 1 October 2017 led to the suspension of the autonomy of Catalonia by application of article 155 of the Magna Carta.
To give an idea of the relevance of the work of the delegations, the report states that the total number of activities they carried out from 2013 to February 2016 that “contain express references to their relationship with the self-determination or sovereignty process amounts to at least 456”. However, the Court of Audit considers “the actual number of activities of the delegations related to this process is much higher”, as many initiatives that have been recorded “through other available documentation” and that were “linked to the secessionist process” are not mentioned in the official reports.